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Leaders of Canada, Australia and New Zealand warn Netanyahu against ‘catastrophic’ assault of Rafah

Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas, PMs of three countries say

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 15 February 2024 06:01 GMT
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The leaders of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand demanded an “immediate” humanitarian ceasefire and said a ground invasion of Rafah would be “catastrophic”.

The world leaders issued a stark warning to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has ordered his military to prepare for a ground assault on the Gazan city of Rafah where more than a million displaced Palestinians have taken refuge.

A joint statement by the prime ministers of the three countries said: “We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic”.

"An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed."

Mr Netanyahu pledged to launch a "powerful" assault on southern Gaza and ordered the military to evacuate civilians ahead of the offensive.

"We will fight until complete victory and this includes a powerful action also in Rafah after we allow the civilian population to leave the battle zones," Mr Netanyahu said.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Australia’s Anthony Albanese, and New Zealand’s Christopher Luxon urged Israel not to conduct the offensive.

Palestinians fleeing the Israeli offensive on Khan Younis arrive at Rafah, Gaza Strip (AP)

However, they said any ceasefire could not be "one-sided," and would require Hamas to disarm and immediately release all remaining hostages.

“The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law,” the statement said. “Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.”

Rafah is believed to be hosting 1.4 million Palestinians, crammed into tent camps and overflowing apartments and shelters after Israel ordered them to move to the southernmost border as it began an offensive inside the strip last year in October.

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The place that offered the last refuge to survivors of Israel’s war against Hamas borders Egypt and the crossing point has been used to deliver humanitarian aid into the strip.

The Israeli forces are now moving Palestinians to what they call a "humanitarian zone" along the Mediterranean coast known as al-Mawasi.

French president Emmanuel Macron was also among the world leaders who urged Mr Netanyahu to not proceed with his plans in Rafah and told him that the human cost of its war was “intolerable”.

Mr Macron expressed "France’s firm opposition to an Israeli offensive in Rafah, which could only lead to a humanitarian disaster of a new magnitude".

Smoke rises during an Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (REUTERS)

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, who was visiting Israel, said the people inside Rafah could not "simply vanish into thin air” and have nowhere to go now.

Another besieged city, Khan Younis, has become the main target of a rolling ground offensive and the Israeli military has ordered an evacuation of the last major hospital in southern Gaza.

It came as ceasefire talks in Egypt involving negotiators from the US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar ended with no breakthrough and Mr Netanyahu said that only a change in the “ludicrous” position from Hamas will see negotiations move forward.

Videos reportedly taken within the hospital and shared with The Independent showed people dashing between open courtyards within the hospital, under heavy gunfire as they tried to rescue the wounded on stretchers.

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