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HRW: Israel’s forced displacement of civilians in Rafah would be ‘catastrophic’

February 13, 2024 at 4:44 pm

Palestinians migrate to the middle parts of Gaza after attacks on Rafah intensify in Gaza on February 13, 2024 [Abed Zagout – Anadolu Agency ]

Human Rights Watch has warned that forcing the more than one million displaced Palestinian civilians in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah to evacuate again could lead to “catastrophic consequences.”

In a statement, HRW emphasised that requiring the displaced Palestinians in Rafah to evacuate without providing a secure destination would be against the law and result in severe and devastating outcomes.

It comes after Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, directed the Israeli army and officials to present a plan to the cabinet for the evacuation of Rafah, claiming this measure is necessary to attack Hamas members in the area.

However, HRW highlights that international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits the forced displacement of civilians, except when temporarily required for their security or due to imperative military reasons. It further raised concerns during the Gaza hostilities, warning that forced displacement, considered a war crime, is becoming more likely.

Moreover, it noted that even in the event of forced displacement, Israeli forces remain obligated to take measures to protect the civilian population.

Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW, said: “Forcing the over one million displaced Palestinians in Rafah to again evacuate without a safe place to go would be unlawful and would have catastrophic consequences. There is nowhere safe to go in Gaza. The international community should take action to prevent further atrocities.”

On Sunday, flouting the provisional ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Israel launched an air campaign on Rafah, killing more than 100 Palestinians. The city had been declared a “safe zone” by occupation forces and over a million Palestinians had taken shelter there after being forced out of their homes in the northern areas of the Strip since 7 October.

The Israeli offensive has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

The UN, Egypt, and several other countries, including the US, warned Israel against launching an attack on Rafah, as it could cause what they described as a “disaster” in the city crowded with more than half of the two million displaced civilians from across Gaza.

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