‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 127: Growing International Alarm Over Israeli Plans to Invade Rafah

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 12 Feb 2024

Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Palestine Red Crescent: “What remains of the PRCS ambulance sent to rescue Hind Rajab 12 days ago. The ambulance was bombed by the Israeli occupation, resulting in the deaths of the crew, Yusuf Al-Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhoun.”
(Photo: Palestine Red Crescent)

11 Feb 2024 – Israel has announced its intention to push ahead with its plans to invade Rafah in the southernmost Gaza Strip, where 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering. Rafah’s mayor, Ahmed al-Sufi, warns any military action there would result in a “massacre”.

Casualties:

  • At least 28,064 people have been killed and 67,611 wounded in the Gaza Strip*
  • More than 380 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • The death toll in Israel from the October 7th attacks stands at 1,139, according to Al Jazeera
  • 564 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 3,221 injured.**

*This figure was confirmed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health on its Telegram channel. Some rights groups put the death toll number at more than 35,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

** This figure is released by the Israeli military, showing the soldiers whose names “were allowed to be published.”

Key Developments

  • Israel has committed 16 massacres, killing 117 Palestinians and injuring 152 in Gaza over the past 24 hours, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health
  • Despite U.S. criticisms, Netanyahu pushes ahead with planned invasion of Rafah to “take out four remaining [Hamas] battalions” in the southernmost Gaza Strip city, Haaretz reported.
  • As Netanyahu allegedly makes plans for “civilian evacuation” in Rafah in preparation for Israeli ground invasion, Israeli army kills 28 Palestinians in Gaza in raid on residential homes in Rafah, including 10 children, the youngest of whom was a three-year-old child, Al Jazeera reported.
  • The body has been found of missing 6-year-old Palestinian girl Hind Rajab, who made headlines after her desperate calls to be rescued after her family came under attack by an Israeli tank. The Palestinian medics who were dispatched to rescue her were also declared dead.
  • UN relief chief expresses outcry over planned invasion of Rafah: “Many of the well over 1 million people who make up Rafah’s population today have endured unthinkable suffering. Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to stay safe?”
  • Mayor of Rafah warns any invasion of the city “will lead to a massacre.”
  • Biden to send CIA director to Egypt to continue negotiations on ceasefire deal and potential exchange of captives. This comes on the heels of Israel rejected a proposed ceasefire deal by Hamas, which Netanyahu called ‘crazy’ and Biden dubbed as ‘over the top’.
  • Biden issues new directive requiring countries receiving U.S. military aid to prove that they are “in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law and other standards,” AP reported.
  • Israeli forces and snipers are firing at civilians and medical personnel in and outside of the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza. Doctors Without Borders says two people have been killed and five others have been injured over the past 48 hours.
  • Claims surface of abducted Palestinian doctor and Director of Al-Shifa’ Hospital Muhammad Abu Salmiya is being tortured by Israeli forces and treated ‘like a dog’.
  • Israeli forces kill a 17-year-old Palestinian boy in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus during a raid on the town of Beita.
  • Israel conducts airstrikes and artillery shelling in southern Lebanon, no injuries were reported.
  • Senior Biden administration aide reportedly apologizes for “missteps” in the administration’s handling of Israel’s war on Gaza in closed-door meeting with Arab-American political leaders in Michigan.

Growing chorus of international alarm over Israel’s plans to invade Rafah

Despite warnings and criticisms from the Biden administration, Israel is announcing its intention to push ahead with its plans to invade Rafah, the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip where an estimated 1 million Palestinians, half of Gaza’s population, are sheltering.

Israeli news daily Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army and defense establishment on Friday to “present plans to defeat the Hamas battalions” that are allegedly operating in Rafah.

Quoting a statement from the Prime Minister, Haaretz reported Netanyahu as saying: “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas while leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.”

In an effort seemingly meant to appease vocal warnings from the Biden administration that the U.S. wouldn’t support an “unplanned” military operation in Rafah without considerations to “protect civilians,” Netanyahu also said that a military operation in Rafah would “require the evacuation of the civilian population from combat zones.”

It is not clear how Israel plans to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have sought shelter in Rafah due to Israeli bombardment and Israeli orders to evacuate the north, central, and other areas of southern Gaza.

Inside Rafah’s city center, tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians shelter in buildings, schools, and hospitals. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Rafah, near the Egyptian border, entire tent cities have been erected to house the growing population of displaced Palestinians.

According to Save the Children, an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians, including 610,000 children are currently displaced and sheltering in the Rafah area.

Given the current reality that Israel has destroyed its way through the rest of Gaza, obliterating more than half of Gaza’s infrastructure in the process, the question remains: where will the 1.3 million Palestinians in Rafah go if the army invades?

Since the start of the genocidal Israeli campaign on Gaza, Palestinians have been warning of Israeli desires to ethnically cleanse them, and push Palestinians from the small besieged enclave into Egypt. Those fears were intensified when, in late October, documents were leaked from the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence outlining plans to push the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza into the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza to the south.

Egypt’s borders, however, have remained firmly closed, save the entry and exit of minimal humanitarian aid. The Egyptian government and other Arab nations have also remained firmly opposed to Israeli ideations of mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza.

Despite the growing threat of an invasion in Rafah, many Palestinians sheltering there say they will not leave their shelters. “We have come to the border area with Egypt because we thought it would be the safest place, the last place where Israel would push the residents. Now it is not possible to push them any farther, it is not possible for us to move anywhere else. We will only move from here to the grave. This is our last resort,” a Palestinian woman in Rafah told Middle East Eye. 

As Israel continues to promote its plans of an invasion into Rafah, a growing chorus of outcry is emerging both locally and on the international stage.

According to Al Jazeera, the mayor of Rafah, Ahmed al-Sufi, has warned that any military action in Rafah would result in a “massacre”.

Martin Griffiths, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, posted on X warning that Palestinians in Rafah would have nowhere to go in the case of an Israeli invasion.

“Many of the well over 1 million people who make up Rafah’s population today have endured unthinkable suffering. Their homes have been destroyed, their streets mined, their neighborhoods shelled. They’ve been on the move for months, braving bombs, disease and hunger.

Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to stay safe? There’s nowhere left to go in Gaza. Civilians must be protected and their essential needs, including shelter, food and health must be met,” Griffiths wrote.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also posted on X, saying: “Half of Gaza’s population is now crammed into Rafah with nowhere to go. Reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah are alarming.

Such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.”

Amnesty International posted satellite images showing vast displacement camps in Rafah, saying” “Many have already faced successive waves of displacement. If these mass ‘evacuation orders’ are indeed issued they may amount to the crime of forcible transfer.”

UNICEF also warned against a ground invasion in Rafah, saying it would “mark another devastating turn. The agency’s director also called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” saying it would save lives.

Avril Benoit, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-USA also responded to Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah, saying it would be “catastrophic and must not proceed.”

“As aerial bombardment of the area continues, more than a million people—many living in tents and makeshift shelters—now face a dramatic escalation in this ongoing massacre.”

“Nowhere in Gaza is safe,” she continued, “and repeated forced displacements have pushed people to Rafah, where they are trapped in a tiny patch of land and have no options.”

Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs alo issued a statement, saying it “rejects the displacement of Palestinians inside or outside their territories and stresses the need to end the war on the Gaza Strip.”

As Israel mulls over plans to ‘protect civilians’, Israel kills more civilians in Gaza

Just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intentions to evacuate civilians in Rafah, Israeli forces killed 28 Palestinians in air attacks on residential homes in Rafah.

According to an Al Jazeera report on Saturday, Israel conducted three separate air strikes on homes in the Rafah area, killing multiple members of the same family. At least 10 children were killed in the airstrikes, the youngest of whom was reported to be just three months old.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza released a statement on Saturday morning, saying that in the past 24 hours, Israeli forces had carried out 16 “massacres”, killing 117 Palestinians and injuring 152 in Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes were also reported in northern Gaza, in neighborhoods in Gaza City, killing at least one Palestinian and injuring six others, according to Wafa.

Wafa also added that Israeli ground operations were continuing in the south in Khan Younis, with Israeli forces demolishing an entire residential block in the Western part of the city.

6-year-old missing girl and two paramedics found dead in Gaza after 12 days 

The body of Hind Rajab, the 6-year-old Palestinian girl whose story shook the world when her desperate cries for help were published online, has been found, 12 days after she went missing in Gaza City.

Hind’s story went viral after the Palestinian Red Crescent published a recording of the 6-year-old’s desperate calls to emergency services to come save her after her family’s car came under fire from Israeli forces in northern Gaza.

According to PCRS, the call took place on January 29th, after the car that Hind and her extended family were attempting to flee in, came under attack from advancing Israeli tanks and ground troops. Before the more than 3-hour-long call with Hind, PCRS received a call from Hind’s 15-year-old cousin Layan, who said their car was coming under attack by Israeli tanks. The call with Layan cuts off with her screaming as heavy fire can be heard in the background.

PCRS teams and dispatchers said they had to wait for more than three hours before their crews were given permission to approach the scene and attempt to rescue Hind. But when the ambulance arrived, it immediately came under fire.

“First [the paramedics] said the Israeli forces are putting laser lights on them … And then we heard a gunfire sound before we lost the connection. It was like a gunfire or explosion, we were not sure of what happened,” PRCS spokesperson Nebal Farsakh said.

Due to the presence of Israeli ground forces in the area, it became impossible for emergency crews, medics, or Hind’s family to approach the scene safely.

For 12 days after the incident, PRCS and Hind’s mother were putting out daily pleas on social media, appealing for information on the condition of Hind and the two medics who went to rescue her.

On Saturday, after the army retreated from the area, Hind’s family were able to arrive in the car that she was in with her aunt, uncle and cousins. Everyone in the car, totalling seven people including Hind, was found dead.

Video footage of the scene show the severely damaged car that the family were traveling in riddled with bullet holes.

PRCS also said the two medics, Yusuf Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhoun, were killed. PRCS released photos and video of the destroyed, crumpled, and burnt ambulance that the two medics were driving in. While it remains unclear what weapons Israeli forces targeted the ambulance with, it appeared to be bombed out, potentially hit with heavy artillery shelling or some sort of explosive or incendiary device.

 

According to PRCS, the ambulance was found just meters away from Hind’s family’s car. In a video posted by Middle East Eye, an unidentified man, seemingly a member of Hind’s family who went to retrieve the bodies, says the ambulance was completely burned, and that they found “only bones”  when searching for the remains of the medics.

The bodies of Hind and her relatives were taken to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to be shrouded for burial. In a video, Hind’s mother cries desperately to the camera after going to bid her daughter farewell, saying “May God punish those who are responsible, you broke my heart over my daughter…May God avenge us for all those who let us down. I will ask you in front of God on the Day of Judgement about my daughter!”

Two hospitals in Khan Younis are under Israeli attack

Two hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis are under direct attack from Israeli forces, with a number of doctors and civilians arrested and injured and at least two Palestinians killed over the past 48 hours.

The two hospitals in question are the Nasser Medical Complex and the Al-Amal Hospital, both of which have been under siege by Israeli ground troops for weeks.

According to Wafa, two Palestinian civilians were killed and at least three others were injured on Saturday near the gate to the Nasser Medical Complex after they came under fire by Israeli snipers.

A video published on social media on Saturday morning purports to show a Palestinian crawling on the ground in an attempt to retrieve the body of someone who was killed by Israeli snipers right outside the gates to the hospital.

According to Wafa, medical teams have been unable to move between buildings inside the complex “due to the constant shooting by occupation snipers.” Late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Israeli forces reportedly targeted the upper floors of the complex with artillery fire.

There are at least 300 medical personnel, 450 patients and wounded, and around 10,000 displaced Palestinians currently sheltering inside the hospital.

Saturday marked the 20th day that the Nasser hospital has been under siege by Israeli ground troops. Videos published on social media this week have shown instances of Palestinians being sniped down near the gates of the hospital or in the hospital’s vicinity.

On Friday, a video went viral of a Palestinian woman doctor and other Palestinian civilians dodging sniper fire to rescue a young man who had been shot outside the hospital. Videos from this week also showed Palestinians transporting water jugs using a pulley system of rope and a cart on wheels after Palestinians sheltering in the vicinity of the hospital were shot at when attempting to retrieve drinking water.

At another hospital in Khan Younis, the Al-Amal Hospital, which has also been under siege for weeks by Israeli forces, doctors, emergency medical personnel, and civilians were attacked and abducted by Israeli forces.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Friday, Israeli forces raided the hospital and abducted around 17 people. Among them were eight members of the society, including four doctors, four wounded patients, and five civilians.

PRCS said the military broke into the hospital and conducted a raid that lasted more than 10 hours, destroying medical equipment and devices and attacking and “humiliating” paramedics. Israeli soldiers also reportedly stole money belonging to PRCS, its employees, and patients. Soldiers also stole laptops and walkie-talkies.

Since the start of Israel’s genocide in Gaza, the Israeli military has made hospitals centers of attack, targeting a number of Palestinian hospitals from the north to the south of the Strip. The Israeli army claims that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups use hospitals as “command centers,” though little evidence has been provided by the Israeli government or military to support this justification for attacking hospitals.

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