Hamas on Saturday warned that there could be “tens of thousands” of dead and injured if the Israeli military attacked Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu this week said he had ordered troops to prepare to go into the city, crowded with displaced Palestinians, as it hunts down those responsible for the deadly October 7 attacks on southern Israel.
The announcement has prompted concern from foreign governments including the United States and aid agencies grappling with a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza as a result of the war.
Hamas said in a statement that any military action would have catastrophic repercussion that “may lead to tens of thousands of martyrs and injured if Rafah… is invaded”. The Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip said it would hold “the American administration, international community and the Israeli occupation” responsible if that happened.
Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, has become a last refuge for civilians fleeing a relentless Israeli bombing campaign elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.
The UN says about half of Gaza’s 2.4 million people are now sheltering in the city, with many sleeping outside in tents and makeshift shelters, and mounting concern about lack of food, water and sanitation.
On Friday, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, said a major Israeli offensive in Rafah “can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy”.
Netanyahu has ordered military officials to draw up plans for “evacuating” Rafah alongside “destroying” Hamas fighters in the city.
Witnesses reported new strikes on Rafah early Saturday, raising fears among Palestinians of a looming ground invasion.