Removal of Palestinians in Rafah “a genocidal act”

Palestinians in the ruins of al-Huda mosque, destroyed in Israeli bombing overnight, in Rafah, southern Gaza, 12 February.

Mohammed Talatene DPA

Israel’s stated plan to forcibly transfer more than 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah “amounts to a continuing Nakba, and a genocidal act,” three human rights groups said on Monday, urging immediate international intervention.

Rafah, located in southern Gaza along the border with Egypt, endured some of the deadliest hours of Israel’s military offensive, now in its fifth month, in the early hours of Monday.

More than 28,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since 7 October, with thousands more missing under the rubble. An untold number of Palestinians have died from hunger and disease in a secondary wave of mortality resulting from Israel’s military offensive and siege.

The vast majority of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced, many of them repeatedly, and most are now sheltering in Rafah in inhumane conditions.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has repeatedly threatened to expand the military offensive in Rafah in recent days, raising international alarm over the unprecedented bloodshed and mass expulsion that would all but surely entail.

At least 68 Palestinians, including 19 children and 13 women, were killed during some two hours of bombing early Monday, according to Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. The Palestinian Authority’s official television station said that 74 people were killed in the Rafah strikes, according to Reuters.

“Among those killed were numerous internally displaced persons who had sought shelter in Rafah, many of whom were killed while asleep in their makeshift tents,” the rights groups added. “Many more bodies are still under the rubble.”

Israeli warplanes targeted “at least 15 residential buildings, two mosques, agricultural lands and areas close to the Egyptian-Palestinian border,” according to the rights groups. “Helicopters and gunboats were also involved in the attacks.”

Ninety Palestinians, including 34 children, 18 women and a journalist, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the first 10 days of February, the rights groups said.

Sinai for Human Rights, an organization based in Egypt, said that on early Monday, Israel bombed areas along the Gaza-Egypt border fence, which Cairo has reinforced due to fears of a mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza.

The three Palestinian human rights groups said that the people amassed on Gaza’s border with Egypt had fled to the area “at the command of the Israeli military on the instruction that Rafah was a designated safe zone.”

The groups added that “the intensified targeting of Rafah comes as the Israeli military continues to empty out Gaza City and forcibly displace its residents southward toward Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis.”

Forcing Palestinians south to Rafah, and then announcing the displacement of people in that area, “whether internally into smaller pockets of Gaza or into Egypt, with no basic necessities for survival, is further evidence of Israel’s genocidal intent,” according to the human rights groups.

Rafah massacres a “diversion” from Israeli raid

An unnamed senior Israeli military official told Axios that it had pounded Rafah early Monday as a diversion while its forces freed two Israeli-Argentine men held in Gaza after being captured during Hamas’ 7 October raid.

Of the more than 240 Israelis and foreign nationals who were captured on 7 October, around 130 remain in Gaza after around 100 were freed in a prisoner exchange during a week-long truce in late November.

On Sunday, the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, announced that two captives were killed and eight were seriously injured in Israeli strikes during the preceding days.

The Israeli military said early last week that 31 of the remaining captives in Gaza had been declared dead and their families notified.

While international pressure for a ceasefire builds, Netanyahu has vowed to press on, telling an American television program on Sunday that “enough” of the remaining captives in Gaza were alive to justify continuing the military operation.

Last week, Netanyahu rejected a proposal for a prisoner exchange and an extended pause in fighting put forward by Hamas.

Reuters reported on Monday that senior officials from the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar are due to resume negotiations in Cairo on Tuesday. Sources told Reuters that they’re seeking a “three-phase deal framework that will see the release of hostages and achieve an extended pause.”

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden reiterated to Netanyahu over the phone that Washington opposes a military operation in Rafah in the absence of a real plan to protect civilians sheltering there.

The airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians in Rafah early Monday came just hours after that phone call.

On Monday, Biden told reporters following talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah that Washington was working “day and night” to secure a deal that would halt hostilities for at least six weeks.

Asked what kind of leverage the US was applying on Israel, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday that “diplomatic levers” had been used and “we have engaged with [the Israelis] on a multitude of levels.”

Miller added that those efforts had caused Israel to “take steps at our urging that have had real, tangible impact, but they have not been enough.”

“When the United States of America stands up and says something publicly, it matters,” Miller insisted when pressed about material policy change towards Israel, versus mere rhetoric.

EU’s Borrell: “provide less arms”

Josep Borrell, the foreign policy chief of the European Union – which rides roughshod over Palestinian rights while buying Israeli weapons and providing it with aid packages – said that such words needed to be met with action on Monday.

Referring to Biden’s comments days earlier that Israel’s actions in Gaza were “over the top,” Borrell said that “if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed.”

“Everybody goes to Tel Aviv begging please, don’t do that, protect civilians, don’t kill so many,” Borrell said. “Netanyahu doesn’t listen to anyone.”

“They’re going to evacuate. Where, to the moon?” Borrell asked rhetorically, referring to Israel’s promise to wait for civilians to move before launching an offensive in Rafah, while denying people from returning to the largely destroyed north.

Asked about Israel wanting the UN to assist in evacuating civilians from Rafah, the spokesperson for António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said on Monday that “we will not be party to forced displacement of people.”

Stéphane Dujarric added that there was nowhere safe in Gaza to evacuate to, and in areas that are not active combat zones, unexploded ordnance and widespread destruction of housing prohibits residents from returning.

He warned that humanitarian supplies in Gaza may run out in a few days, partly because Israeli protesters are blocking the passage of aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings.

Dujarric said that the UN is hindered from delivering aid inside Gaza because “the deconfliction process that we have in place with the Israeli authorities is also not working,” in addition to the “breakdown of civil order.”

“Accountability must follow”

Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Monday that “given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah.”

He added that “beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets, this incursion into Rafah may also mean the end of the meager humanitarian aid” being brought into Gaza.

This would have “huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

Türk added that “Israel must comply with the legally binding orders issued by the International Court of Justice, and with the full span of international humanitarian law.”

The International Court of Justice deemed Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to be a plausible genocide in an interim ruling last month. The court issued several provisional measures ordering Israel to stop killing or “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to Palestinians in Gaza and allow the provision of humanitarian aid.

“Those who defy international law have been put on notice,” the UN human rights chief said. “Accountability must follow.”

ICC’s Karim Khan cautions Israel

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said on Monday that he was “deeply concerned by the reported bombardment and potential ground incursion by Israeli forces in Rafah.”

In contrast to the claims of the US State Department spokesperson, Khan added that he had “not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel” since his visit in late November.

He warned “all those involved” that his office “is actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed. Those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.”

Khan reiterated his call for the immediate release of all captives still held in Gaza.

A delegation representing the relatives of the captives will be filing a complaint against Hamas at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday.

The filing “is aimed at bringing charges against Hamas’ leaders without the Israeli government having contact with the court or recognizing its jurisdiction,” according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.

Israel and the US vehemently oppose the ICC’s Palestine investigation, opened by Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda in early 2021.

“Sources have told Haaretz that even though the Israeli government isn’t directly involved, it is cooperating with the Hostages Families Forum and views the legal effort favorably,” the paper added.




Regarding the "rescue operation" yielding to Argentina elderly men, Haaretz reported their release on Feb 2, not the 22. Can ei. Solve and expose the mystery of what could be anything between a mix up and a crisis actor? Excellent reporting as always, really appreciate all your work!


This karim khan is one of the most shameful characters on earth, the epitome of 'faithful servant'.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.