Gaza aid groups brace for Israeli invasion of Rafah


As Israel continues to threaten a full-scale assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, local, regional, and international aid groups have been scrambling to try to prepare to respond to the catastrophic humanitarian impact a ground invasion is expected to have. Facing a severe scarcity of supplies and resources, people involved in the effort say whatever preparations they are able to make will undoubtedly fall far short of the needs.

“We’re taking the Israel threats very seriously, and are acting accordingly,” Dr. Bashar Murad, executive director of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza, told The New Humanitarian. “We’ve seen what the Israeli military is capable of doing in Gaza City, in the north of Gaza, and in Khan Younis. This could all be replicated in Rafah too.”

The nearby coastal region of al-Mawasi—which Israel unilaterally declared a “safe zone” earlier in the war, although it has continued to bomb and kill civilians in the area—has become a staging ground for these efforts. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have already relocated to al-Mawasi from all over Gaza. Preparing for a new influx from Rafah, aid groups have been building new displacement camps, emergency medical clinics, food warehouses, and other humanitarian infrastructure in the area.

Israel, however, is continuing to obstruct the delivery of aid to Gaza and hamper humanitarian activities—including by killing an unprecedented number of aid workers—inside the enclave. A sparsely populated agricultural area before the war, al-Mawasi also lacks basic infrastructure, such as paved roads, water supply lines, electricity, and sanitation facilities. These limitations are making it difficult for aid groups to find suitable locations to establish facilities and enough supplies to stock them.

Still, the increasing number of medical clinics, community kitchens, aid distribution points, warehouses, and temporary field offices for local and international aid groups was clearly visible on a recent visit to al-Mawasi by The New Humanitarian. Many facilities are housed in tents and sheds, while seaside vacation homes and vegetable and poultry farms have been repurposed into aid warehouses and communal kitchens.

“All these efforts will amount to nothing in the case of an Israeli invasion of Rafah,” Dawoud al-Astal, a relief activist and supervisor at the local Al-Fajr Youth Association, which has been providing support to displaced people in al-Mawasi, told The New Humanitarian.

Much-needed humanitarian work may come to a halt altogether because it is unclear how aid will reach Gaza if the two main border crossings used to bring aid in—both in Rafah—are cut off by an invasion, the Red Crescent’s Murad added.

With a population of around 275,000 before the war, Rafah is the last major urban area in Gaza that is yet to see a large-scale Israeli ground offensive. Around 1.4 million people forcibly displaced from their homes in other parts of Gaza have taken shelter in and around the city. Aid groups are expecting many of these people to flood into al-Mawasi if and when an Israeli invasion of Rafah begins.

— Mohamed Soulaimane for The New Humanitarian, April 11 (excerpt)

Photo: Mohamed Solaimane/TNH

  1. Can Rafah invasion be forestalled?

    An imminent military operation in Rafah will be suspended if a hostage release deal is secured, Israel’s Foreign Minister has announced. Israel Katz said on April 27 that the offensive would be called off if Hamas agrees to the deal, stressing that freeing the remaining hostages is the government’s “top priority.” (TJC)

    However, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich strongly dissented, asserting that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu will have “no right of existence” unless Israel invades Rafah. (ToI)

    Meanwhile, satellite photos analyzed by the Associated Press reveal a massive compound of tents being built near Khan Younis. (ToI) This is presumably one of the “humanitarian islands” being prepared by the Israei military for those displaced by a Rafah invasion.

    The Israeli military was intensively bombarding the eastern part of Rafah on April 26 as troop movements suggest a ground invasion may be imminent. Around 1.5 million Palestinians —65% of Gaza’s population—are living in dire conditions in the city after being forcibly displaced from other parts of the enclave. (TNH)

  2. Bibi to The Hague?

    Israeli officials told the New York Times April 28 they believe that the International Criminal Court is preparing to issue arrest warrants for senior government figures in the genocide case that was brought last year by states including Bolivia and Bangladesh. Israeli and foreign officials are also said to believe the ICC is weighing arrest warrants for Hamas leaders.

    Meanwhile, Haim Rubinstein, a representative of the hostage advocacy organization Families Forum, told Times of Israel that officials told him that “Hamas had offered on October 9 or 10 to release all the civilian hostages in exchange for the IDF not entering the Strip, but the government rejected the offer.”

  3. Nations begin to restore UNRWA aid

    Germany has become the latest country to restore funding to the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees following the publication of an independent review that found Israel has yet to provide any evidence to support allegations made in January that UNRWA employees had ties to Palestinian militant groups. The allegations caused numerous major donor countries to pause their support. Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan have since restored funding. (TNH)

    UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric provided an update Aptil 26 on the UN investigationinto UNWRA staff, saying that one case has been closed and three suspended. Eight staff members remain under investigation. (Jurist)

  4. Netanyahu: stopping the Gaza war now ‘not an option’

    As talks around a possible ceasefire in Gaza continue, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said April 30 that the Israeli military is still planning to launch a ground offensive into Rafah. (PRI)

  5. US senators sent threatening letter to ICC prosecutor

    A group of 12 Republican US senators sent a letter to International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan on April 24 threatening repercussions if the court issued arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials, according to a report by news organization Zeteo.

    The senators alleged that the ICC seeks to punish “legitimate actions of self-defense,” and claimed that arrest warrants “would align the ICC with the largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

    The signatories declared they would take any warrant issued as “not only a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States.” They threatened: “Target Israel and we will target you.” They warned that any further action will result in an “end all American support for the ICC” and moves to bar Khan and his family members from the United States. The letter ended: “You have been warned.”

    The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as well as senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas,  Katie Boyd Britt of Alabama, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Ted Cruz of Texas, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, and Tim Scott of South Carolina. (Jurist)