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Israeli all-out assault on Rafah in Gaza would provoke “anarchy”, death toll tops 35,000

The White House has expressed concern over the Israeli military offensive on Rafah as the world community calls for a ceasefire, fearing disastrous consequences of continued hostilities in Gaza, US media reported.

An all-out Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip city of Rafah would provoke “anarchy” without destroying Hamas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, as the war’s death toll topped 35,000.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking to his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi, emphasised Washington’s concerns about the offensive. A White House readout of the phone call said:

“Mr. Sullivan reiterated President Biden’s longstanding concerns over the potential for a major military ground operation into Rafah, where over one million people have taken shelter.” 

It said Hanegbi “confirmed that Israel is taking US concerns into account,” but did not elaborate.

Israeli bombardment of eastern Rafah has already caused 300,000 Gazans to flee.

The US and other countries, as well as top UN officials, have warned that a full-scale offensive on Rafah could have disastrous consequences for refugees who have been driven there by fighting in other parts of Gaza, many of them living in desperate conditions. Israel has said it is trying to minimise civilian casualties.

But Blinken, when asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” programme whether the US agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israeli troops have killed more civilians than Hamas militants since the war began, replied simply: “Yes, we do.”

Blinken said a full-scale invasion could be “potentially incredibly costly” and that even a massive assault on Rafah was unlikely to end the Hamas threat. He said:

“Israel’s on the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left, or if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas.”

Blinken also confirmed that US President Joe Biden’s restriction on arms transfers to Israel – as the US continues to insist that it better protect civilians and avoid an all-out invasion of Rafah – is limited to 3,500 “high-capacity” bombs. He said the US continues to press Israeli leaders to provide a plan for Gaza after the war is finally over.

Israel struck the Gaza Strip on Sunday, with troops battling militants in several areas of the Hamas-ruled territory where the war’s death toll has topped 35,000, according to the health ministry.

Israel this week sent tanks and soldiers into eastern Rafah despite international opposition, effectively closing a key crossing point.

Philip Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said in a post on the X Sunday website that Israel’s evacuation order was “forcing people in Rafah to flee from anywhere and everywhere”. He said:

“No place is safe in Gaza.”

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis wrote on X:

“Carpet bombing, simultaneously, North, Central and South Gaza, Israel is struggling to convince Western leaders of its genocidal intent. But Western leaders are insatiable, demanding more and more proof!”

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned on Sunday that evacuation orders, “let alone a full assault,” cannot be “reconciled with the binding requirements of international law” or two recent International Court of Justice rulings on Israel’s waging of war.

In a sign of rising tensions in the region, Egypt on Sunday said it would formally back a case brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide during the war.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Sunday as the world marked International Nurses Day that at least 500 health workers have been killed since Israel’s war on Gaza began on 7 October last year.

Ministry spokesperson Khalil Al-Daqran said during a news conference on the sidelines of a sit-in organised by nurses at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the city of Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip:

“Nurses, midwives and medical teams are an integral part of the fabric of the Palestinian people. They were the martyrs who played their national and humanitarian role to save the lives of the wounded and the sick.”

Al-Daqran called on “the international community and free people of the world to protect medical personnel and health facilities and criminalise attacks against them”.

He also called on trade unions, international organisations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to send teams of doctors and nurses to support medical teams in Gaza.

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