Hamas Cautions Against Israel’s Military Progress in Rafah, Predicts “Tens of Thousands” of Casualties

Hamas Cautions Against Israel’s Military Progress in Rafah, Predicts “Tens of Thousands” of Casualties

Hamas issued a warning on Saturday that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah could result in “tens of thousands of dead and wounded” in this southern Gaza Strip city, which serves as the last refuge for Palestinians displaced by the ongoing conflict in the territory.

Witnesses reported bombings in the early hours of Saturday around this town bordering Egypt, which is home to 1.3 million Palestinians, over half of Gaza’s total population. Most of these residents are refugees who fled from other areas of the Strip due to the Israeli offensive.

Hamas, the Islamic extremist movement that has governed the Palestinian enclave since 2007, released a statement warning of the potential for “a catastrophe and a massacre that could lead to tens of thousands of casualties.”

The group made it clear that it would hold “the US administration, the international community, and the Israeli occupation” accountable for the fallout.

The Hamas Health Ministry previously reported that 110 deaths occurred in the Strip overnight. They also noted “intense fighting” at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern part of the territory, where one person died and 300 employees, 450 injured, and 10,000 displaced individuals remain.

On Friday, Israeli forces raided Al Amal, the city’s other major hospital.

After establishing a presence in Gaza City and Khan Younis, Israeli forces are reportedly preparing for a ground operation in Rafah.

Evacuation plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the military on Friday to develop a “combined plan” for the “evacuation” of civilians from Rafah and the “destruction” of Hamas in the city.

Netanyahu argued that it would be impossible to achieve the objective of the war without eliminating Hamas in Rafah and that this would necessitate the evacuation of civilians from combat zones.

The population is living in a state of extreme uncertainty.

Basel Matar, a displaced person from Rafah, expressed his fear and uncertainty, saying, “We are between life and death and we don’t know if tomorrow there will be hope for a truce or changes on the ground.”

They warn of a humanitarian catastrophe

Nadia Hardman, a migrant and refugee rights specialist for Human Rights Watch, warned that forcing over a million displaced Palestinians in Rafah to evacuate again, without a safe place to go, would be both illegal and catastrophic.

Similar warnings were issued by the United States, the European Union, and the UN on Friday. More countries voiced their concerns on Saturday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned on social media of a “humanitarian catastrophe foretold”. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Spain, also expressed their concerns, along with the United Nations.

The United States cautioned that it would not support an operation conducted without careful planning and consideration for the welfare of civilians.

In a rare criticism of Israel since the commencement of the war four months ago, US President Joe Biden described Israel’s “response in the Gaza Strip” as “excessive” in the face of a fierce attack by Hamas on October 7.

The conflict erupted on that day when Islamist militants killed more than 1,160 people, most of them civilians, and kidnapped about 250 in southern Israel.

In retaliation, Israel pledged to “annihilate” Hamas and initiated a relentless campaign of bombing and ground operations against Gaza, where so far 28,064 people have lost their lives, mainly women, children, and adolescents, according to the Gaza government’s Health Ministry.

Negotiations stalled

A “new cycle of negotiations” began on Thursday in Cairo, sponsored by Egypt and Qatar, and involving Hamas, with the goal of securing greater access to humanitarian aid for Gaza and a prisoner exchange between hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Hamas representatives left Cairo on Friday after what they described as “good and positive talks” with the mediators.

A ceasefire at the end of November allowed for the exchange of a hundred hostages for Palestinian prisoners. It is estimated that some 132 individuals captured on October 7 are still in Gaza, and that 29 of them have died.

According to Axios, the CIA’s director will travel to Egypt next week in an attempt to broker a new ceasefire and secure the release of hostages.

The conflict in Gaza has also heightened tensions in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, where groups backed by Iran have launched attacks in support of Hamas, eliciting responses from Israel, the United States, and its allies.

In Yemen, early Saturday morning airstrikes by the US resulted in the deaths of 17 Houthi fighters, according to the rebel group’s official media, who reported this after the funerals of the deceased in Sanaa, the country’s capital.