At least 10 children among the dead as fears of an Israeli ground assault intensify in southern Gaza.
The Israeli military has killed at least 28 Palestinians in strikes on Rafah immediately after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled that an invasion of the city in southern Gaza may be close.
Three air raids on residential homes in the Rafah area killed at least 28 people overnight into Saturday, according to a health official and The Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals.
As with many previous Israeli air raids, each attack reportedly killed multiple members of three families, including a total of 10 children, the youngest of whom was only three months old.
This came hours after Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Palestinians from Rafah in preparation for a ground invasion to accompany the air attacks.
Netanyahu did not provide details or a timeline, but his announcement only exacerbated widespread panic among over half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population who are now packed into Rafah. Many of them had been displaced several times before as a result of Israel’s war on Gaza.
The Israeli leader has said clearing Rafah of the purported four Hamas battalions who are in the area would be necessary on his path to “total victory” over the group.
Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands said, “At the same time, he said any massive army operation in Rafah can’t take place without the evacuation of civilians from the combat zone. He’s told the military and security establishment to come up with plans that do both.”
“This is causing immense concern around the world. We’ve had the United States saying it can’t condone any operation there that doesn’t put in place a proper humanitarian plan. We’ve got the United Nations saying any forced displacement of the 1.4 million people there is out of line,” he said.
Washington and other allies, as well as rights organisations, have warned Israel that invading Rafah would lead to “disaster” and the United Nations has continued to express concern over devastating consequences for civilians.
“Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to stay safe?” asked the UN’s humanitarian affairs and relief chief Martin Griffiths on Saturday.
Many of the well over 1 million people who make up Rafah’s population today have endured unthinkable suffering.
Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to stay safe? pic.twitter.com/5dK4TB243S
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) February 9, 2024
Meanwhile, intense fighting continues to rage in areas across Gaza, with Khan Younis in the south still a main focus of Israeli ground and air attacks.
The area’s largest medical facility, Nasser Hospital, is still under siege by Israeli forces who have killed dozens in the surrounding areas using among other things sniper fire and attack drones.
About 300 overexerted medical personnel, 450 patients and some 10,000 displaced people are believed to be sheltering in the hospital, unable to leave because of Israeli fire and lack of safety elsewhere.
Israel’s invasion of Gaza has killed at least about 28,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, with thousands more missing, likely remaining under rubble.