UN concerned over Rafah as Israel threatens ground assault
The UN has expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, which is receiving an influx of displaced Palestinians while in the crosshairs of a future Israeli assault.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Gazans are fleeing to Rafah following the expulsion of thousands from Khan Younis, which has been the centre of fighting in recent weeks.
According to OCHA, Rafah now holds over half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million people, including around two thirds of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the enclave.
OCHA also emphasised that over two-thirds of Gaza is under Israeli evacuation orders, totalling 246 square kilometres, or 67 percent of the territory.
UNRWA spokesperson Adnan Abu Hasna described the situation as dangerous, saying "we're trying to cope with what's going on, to distribute food, blankets, some tents, health services… but in the end you are talking about a humanitarian catastrophe beyond the ability of UNRWA".
Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant last week signalled that the Israeli army would eventually push into Rafah after the assault on Khan Younis.
On Monday, he added to those warnings, saying that the Israeli army will " also reach places where we have not yet fought in the centre of the Gaza Strip and in the south, and especially to the last remaining [stronghold] of Hamas, Rafah".
"Every terrorist hiding in Rafah should know that his end will be like those in Khan Younis and Gaza [City]," he added.
Israel has increased airstrikes on the city, with one attack killing six members of Gaza's police who were securing an aid truck, according to Quds News Network.
OCHA spokesperson Jens Leark warned against a future Israeli assault on the city during a press conference in Geneva.
"We as the UN and Member States of the UN can bear witness, we can warn what might unfold with a ground invasion and we can make clear what the law says. Under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes."
"To be clear, intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large-scale loss of civilian lives and we must do everything possible within our power to avoid that."
Leark had previously described the situation in Rafah as a "pressure cooker of despair".
Israel's war on Gaza has killed 27,585 Palestinians, with a further 66,978 wounded, according to Gaza's health authorities.