Israeli attack on Rafah would cause damage “beyond what is acceptable,” says Antony Blinken

An Israeli offensive against Rafah, a town in the south of the Gaza Strip where more than a million Palestinians displaced by the war are crowded together, would cause damage “beyond acceptable”warned the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on Friday, May 4.

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According to Mr. Blinken, Israel has not presented any plan to protect civilians during this possible attack. “In the absence of such a plan, we cannot support a major military operation in Rafah”Mr. Blinken said at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona.

For his part, the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on “deeply concerned that a large-scale military operation in Rafah, Gaza, could lead to bloodshed and further weaken a health system already on its knees”.

For now, the Israeli army continues to bomb the city, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to launch a ground offensive to “annihilate” according to him the last brigades of Hamas. The Europeans, the UN and the United States, Israel’s main ally, have all forcefully asked Mr. Netanyahu to abandon a ground offensive on the city.

In addition to the cost in human lives, an offensive would be “a major blow to humanitarian operations throughout the Gaza Strip” because Rafah “is at the heart of humanitarian operations”, warned the spokesperson for the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), Jens Laerke, in Geneva on Friday. It would also weaken “an already broken health system”of which only 12 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are still operating, the WHO added in a press release.

A “broken health system”, according to the WHO

“WHO and partners are working urgently to restore and revive health services (…) but the broken health system could not cope with the increase in injuries and deaths that an incursion into Rafah would cause”according to the press release dated Friday.

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In Rafah, the three hospitals, still partially operational, “will become dangerous to patients, staff, paramedics and aid workers when hostilities intensify in their vicinity and, therefore, will quickly become non-functional”warns the WHO.

Also ” vulnerable “the European hospital in Gaza, east of Khan Younes, “could become isolated and inaccessible” during a possible offensive in Rafah, leaving in the south of the Gaza Strip “only six field hospitals left”.

“To ease the burden on hospitals” In the event of an Israeli operation in the south, the WHO says it is working to establish new health centers in the center and north of the Gaza Strip, as well as a new field hospital in Rafah. She also transferred a “large volume” of medical supplies stored in Rafah in a new warehouse further north, as they “could become inaccessible during the incursion”.

But “despite contingency plans and efforts, WHO warns that substantial additional mortality and morbidity are expected when the military incursion takes place”calling “respect for the sacred nature of care” and to “remove obstacles to the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid to and across Gaza”.

Hamas negotiators expected in Cairo on Saturday

While talks continue in Cairo for a possible ceasefire, Antony Blinken also affirmed on Friday that Hamas remains the “the only obstacle between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire”. “We are waiting to see if, really, they can agree to say yes to the ceasefire and the release of the hostages”said Mr. Blinken.

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In a statement released late Friday, the Palestinian Islamist movement said it was in a “positive spirit”. “In light of recent contacts with brother mediators in Egypt and Qatar, the Hamas delegation will travel to Cairo on Saturday to complete the discussions”he announced Friday.

In power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, Hamas is however ” determined “ to obtain “a total cessation of aggression” Israeli, ” withdrawal “ Israeli forces and “a serious arrangement for the exchange” Israeli hostages against Palestinian prisoners.

A senior official of the Islamist movement confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the delegation will arrive in Cairo in the morning and will be led by Khalil Al-Hayya, number 2 of the movement’s political branch in the Gaza Strip.

And according to the Axios website, the head of the CIA, William Burns, already arrived in the Egyptian capital on Friday evening, a sign that the time for key decisions has come after months of negotiations.

The mediators – Egypt, Qatar and the United States – have been waiting for almost a week for Hamas’ response to a new truce offer submitted at the end of April.

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The World with AFP

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