Israel's Rafah invasion may be south Gaza's famine 'tipping point'

Israel's Rafah invasion may be south Gaza's famine 'tipping point'
An invasion of Rafah would send starvation-related deaths past a tipping point in central and southern Gaza, Refugees International has warned.
4 min read
08 May, 2024
Israel ordered Palestinians living in parts of eastern Rafah to evacuate on Monday [Doaa Albaz/Anadolu/Getty]

An Israeli ground invasion of the Gazan city of Rafah would push starvation-related deaths over a tipping point in the strip's south, an advocacy group has warned.

Israeli forces seized southern Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday as they began a long-threatened attack against the overcrowded town sheltering more than a million people.

Refugees International president Jeremy Konyndyk said on Wednesday that the definition of famine requires a highly elevated rate of death as a result of starvation and disease.

"We've passed a concerning tipping point on that… in the north, and are at a concerning tipping point on that in the middle and southern Gaza," he told an online press briefing.

"If there is a Rafah invasion… that certainly will push things past the tipping point because what remains of the aid operation will collapse."

Konyndyk added that such an escalation would lead to "really skyrocketing mortality related to the famine".

Rafah, the southernmost city and province in Gaza, is the main place aid enters the Palestinian enclave.

UN chief António Guterres has warned that a full-scale Rafah attack would be a "humanitarian catastrophe".

Palestinians have been left desperately searching for safety since Israel on Monday ordered civilians living in parts of eastern Rafah to evacuate. Thousands have fled.

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"I was actually concerned and afraid because my sister and… her small family live there," Oxfam media officer Ghada Alhaddad, who is based in Gaza, told reporters on Wednesday.

Alhaddad added that she and her parents rang her sister multiple times but experienced a disruption in the telecommunication services.

"In Gaza, we started to connect [that] whenever we have… a disruption or a cut in the telecommunications… atrocities will happen," she said.

"So, we kept calling and calling and calling till the phone was picked up, and then she said: 'My children are very terrified. I'm very scared as well.'"

People began moving into other areas like coastal Al-Mawasi, where Israel has long claimed there is a "humanitarian" zone, as well as the central Gaza Strip, Alhaddad said.

"They were running. They were moving. Everybody was scared [and] concerned. All hopes of a ceasefire… was dashed and was destroyed," she added.

'No safe spaces'

The Israeli military said on social media platform X on Monday that it had expanded the so-called "humanitarian area" in Al-Mawasi, which now runs further to the east and north.

But Palestinians remain at risk, with civil society groups saying there are no safe areas in Gaza.

Helena Ranchal, an official at the medical organisation Médecins du Monde, called the concept of safe zones a "lie" on Wednesday.

A joint statement on Tuesday by 31 mostly British non-governmental organisations, including Save the Children UK and Oxfam GB, also said there were "no safe spaces" in Gaza.

Guterres, the UN chief, has similarly said "there is no safe place" in the Palestinian enclave.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, senior advocacy director at Amnesty International, urged the Israeli army to withdraw its eastern Rafah evacuation order unless it can guarantee the population's safety.

She said in a Tuesday statement that this was "highly unlikely" under the "intense military attacks that Israel has been relentlessly conducting for seven months across the Gaza Strip".

Diplomatic influence

Bob Kitchen, vice president of emergencies at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), called for countries to bring their diplomatic power to bear to stop the humanitarian disaster underway in Rafah.

"The dire warnings of aid groups have materialised: Israeli forces have launched a ground incursion into eastern Rafah and have taken control of the Palestinian side of the border crossing," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The IRC urgently calls on Israel to halt further violence in Rafah and across the Gaza Strip, and for all parties to agree to an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

"The international community must wield all diplomatic influence at its disposal to bring the parties to an agreement and halt the humanitarian tragedy underway in Rafah."

Israel's seven-month war on Gaza has so far killed 34,844 people in the enclave, the territory's health ministry said on Wednesday.

South Africa lodged a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December, charging Israel with committing "genocidal acts" in Gaza.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, found in January that there was a plausible risk of Israel violating its obligations under the UN Genocide Convention.