Rafah: An Israeli military offensive will lead to mass atrocities

Published 06. May 2024
Statement from Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) following forced, unlawful evacuation orders in Rafah:

“Israel’s military offensive in Rafah could lead to the deadliest phase of this conflict, inflicting horrific suffering on approximately 1.4 million displaced civilians in the area.

“The relocation orders issued by Israel today to thousands of Gazans, directing them to move to Al-Mawasi, are beyond alarming. The area is already overstretched and devoid of vital services. It lacks the capacity to house the number of people currently seeking refuge in Rafah, with no assurances of safety, proper accommodation or return once hostilities end for those forced to relocate.

"The absence of these fundamental guarantees of safety and return, as required by international humanitarian law, qualifies Israel's relocation directives as forcible transfer, amounting to a serious violation of international law. Any Israeli military operation in Rafah – which has become the largest cluster of displacement camps in the world – will cause potential mass atrocities.

“Rafah had become the last refuge for hundreds of thousands of families, deprived of any semblance of safety. With nowhere else to go, they are facing the threat of prolonged displacement and death. My NRC colleagues, and many other aid organisations, are working tirelessly in crammed shelters, but we find ourselves unable to sustain these efforts. The aid system is bound to collapse, leaving those fleeing the advancing Israeli forces vulnerable to hunger and suffering.

“Israel's allies have consistently failed to restrain indiscriminate attacks in Gaza for months. Now, once more, they are failing to prevent Israel from moving forward with a reckless military offensive in densely populated Rafah. By supporting a war of debilitation and supplying arms that fuel the conflict, Israel's allies must now bear responsibility for their failure to ensure respect for the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

“We urgently call on Hamas and Israel to agree to a deal that can end the bloodshed and avert further hostilities. History’s verdict will be harsh on the men who continued a war that kills countless women and children. The parties must do more to protect civilians and ensure the safe delivery of aid during this offensive. Both Israel and Palestinian non-state armed groups must agree to an immediate and lasting ceasefire as the only way to save lives, release hostages, and ensure sufficient aid reaches people across Gaza.”

Notes to editors:

  • Over 110,000 Palestinians have been killed or injured, and the numbers continue to rise.
  • According to the UN, 1.4 million people are displaced in Rafah (UNRWA).

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