May 19, 2024

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office said on Friday that an Israeli offensive in Gaza’s border town of Rafah could not be allowed to happen because it would cause massive loss of Palestinian lives.

“Should Israel launch its threatened military offensive into Rafah, where 1.5 million people have been displaced in deplorable, subhuman conditions, any ground assault on Rafah would incur massive loss of life and would heighten the risk of further atrocity crimes,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office.

“This must not be allowed to happen.”

Defying international calls to halt its military operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel would push on with its offensive against the Hamas movement that runs Gaza, including into Rafah, which he described as “the last Hamas stronghold”.

About 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed into Rafah, on the southernmost fringe of the enclave against the border with Egypt, most of them having fled homes further north to escape Israel’s onslaught.

Israel has also said it is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over Ramadan as Hamas called for Palestinians to march to mosque at the start of the Muslim fasting month.

“We also fear that further Israeli restrictions on access by Palestinians to East Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan could further inflame tensions,” Laurence said.

Al-Aqsa is one of the holiest sites for Muslims and its compound overlooks the Western Wall, the most sacred place of prayer for Jews, who believe the hill is the site of the first Jewish temple. As such, the area has long been a flashpoint for potential violence, particularly during religious holidays.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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