Middle East crisis live: UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

Date:

UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

The city, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:

We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said there is nowhere else for them to go.

Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, he said:

We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.

It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.

They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.

So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.

But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.

We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.

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Key events

Giving more details about the hostage rescue in Rafah, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were found “deep inside Rafah … held in harsh conditions”.

“They were intentionally held in the middle of a civilian neighbourhood, inside a civilian building, to try and prevent us from rescuing them. But we did,” BBC News quoted him as saying.

Geneva Abdul

A woman evacuated from Gaza to the UK is desperate to help her family exit the territory amid warnings of an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Islam Alashi, 38, found herself amid the war after travelling to Gaza from Liverpool to visit her father in September. After nearly 60 days under Israeli bombardment, Alashi was able to evacuate and return to her family in the UK in December, where she has since started a fundraising campaign to evacuate her father, sister and niece as they shelter with more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population in Rafah.

“My mind is still there, to be honest, I just came to be beside my kids and my husband,” said Alashi, who has not been able to return to work or her routine before the war. “Nothing changed for me because yes I saved myself, but I can’t save the rest of my family.”

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Following reports of airstrikes in Rafah last night, Alashi, who last spoke with her sister two days ago, said she is “terrified” for her family sheltering in a tent near the border, which cost them $1,000. The only option to evacuate her family now, said Alashi, is paying for them to cross into Egypt.

“If we pay $5,000 for each one of the adults and $2,500 for the baby they can be evacuated the next week,” said Alashi. The Guardian previously reported on bribes being paid up to $10,000 (£7,850) to help Palestinians leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

When her name appeared on the list of evacuees at the Rafah border crossing in December, Alashi took her father, who is Palestinian, and sister, who holds a Yemeni passport, and niece as well, hoping they’d be able to cross with her. Her family was returned to Rafah, recalled Alashi, who was too upset to turn her head as she left.

“When I can connect with my sister she’s crying all the time, and I cry, she says ‘please save us, please do something for us’,” said Alashi. “But I can’t do anything to them because it’s about governments.”

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The Sanremo Italian song festival – Italy’s biggest showbiz event – has been criticised by Israel after a rapper competing in the contest’s final appealed to “stop genocide” during his appearance on stage.

Alon Bar, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, said the festival, which draws in millions of TV viewers and is used to pick the Italian candidate for the Eurovision song contest, had been exploited to “spread hatred and provocation in a superficial, irresponsible way” after the appeal by Ghali.

“In the 7 October massacre, among the 1,200 victims were over 360 young people slaughtered and raped during the Nova music festival,” Bar posted to social media. “Another 40 of them were kidnapped and are still in the hands of the terrorists. The Sanremo festival could have expressed solidarity with them. It is a shame this didn’t happen.”

You can read the full story by the Guardian’s Rome correspondent, Angela Giuffrida, here:

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UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

The city, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:

We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said there is nowhere else for them to go.

Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, he said:

We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.

It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.

They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.

So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.

But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.

We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.

Updated at 

Israel says Hamas forces halved with more than 12,000 gunmen killed

An Israeli government spokesperson said that Hamas had been reduced to half its fighting force, Reuters reported.

“We’re talking about three-quarters of Hamas’ battalions that have been shattered … with over 12,000 terrorists who have been killed,” spokesperson Eylon Levy said.

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UK sanctions extremist settlers in the West Bank

The United Kingdom has announced new sanctions on “four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the Foreign Office said.

The foreign secretary, David Cameron, said in a statement:

Today’s sanctions place restrictions on those involved in some of the most egregious abuses of human rights. We should be clear about what is happening here. Extremist Israeli settlers are threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs. This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable.

Israel must also take stronger action and put a stop to settler violence. Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through.

Extremist settlers, by targeting and attacking Palestinian civilians, are undermining security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Francesca Albanese, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government has announced.

#BREAKING: UN’s @franceskalbs, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories after recent comment – Israel’s foreign minister @Israel_katz and interior minister Moshe Arbel announce

— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) February 12, 2024

Discussions will take place today in Israel on the question of whether to send a delegation to Cairo tomorrow, the Israeli public broadcaster reports.

American officials see talks in Egypt as an “important event”, and Israeli officials say that this boosts chances that Israel will participate, according to the broadcaster.

בישראל יקיימו היום דיונים בנוגע לשליחת משלחת לפסגת קהיר שתתקיים מחר. גורמים בישראל הבהירו בימים האחרונים כי התשובה תלויה בשינוי עמדת חמאס, אולם בשל העובדה שהממשל האמריקני רואה בפסגה “אירוע חשוב”, גורמים ישראלים אומרים כי זה מעלה את הסיכוי שישראל תשתתף בו@AmichaiStein1

— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 12, 2024

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, is in the region today.

Rutte, who is considered a frontrunner to become the next Nato secretary-general, said he has three priorities: the need for more humanitarian aid, the release of hostages and a reduction in the intensity of Israeli operations.

Vandaag ben ik in Israël en de Palestijnse gebieden. Hier voer ik gesprekken met @IsraeliPM Netanyahu en met de Palestijnse minister-president @DrShtayyeh. Drie dingen hebben nu de grootste prioriteit: er is massief meer humanitaire hulp nodig in Gaza, Hamas moet de meer dan 100…

— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) February 12, 2024

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met today with Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany’s opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

The Israeli leader’s office said:

Netanyahu thanked Opposition Leader Merz for his unwavering support of Israel and its right to defend itself, and for Germany’s historic commitment to Israel. The sides also discussed the need to further develop bilateral ties.

Here are some of the latest images coming out from the newswires:

Children inspect the damage in the rubble of a mosque following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
A man walks with salvaged religious books as people inspect the damage in the rubble of a mosque following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian people in Deir al-Balah, Gaza. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

A local Hezbollah official was seriously injured on Monday in an Israeli airstrike on his car in southern Lebanon, a Lebanese security source told AFP.

Israeli forces and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, have traded near-daily fire since the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage.

The source said an Israeli strike “targeted a local Hezbollah official in the town of Bint Jbeil”, which lies near the country’s southern border with Israel, and the official was “seriously injured”.

Lebanon’s official National news agency, meanwhile, said “an enemy drone targeted a car near the hospital” in Bint Jbeil.

An AFP journalist on the ground saw the targeted car severely damaged with its roof pierced through.

Hezbollah is both a political party with ministers in the Lebanese cabinet and a militant movement with forces that are stronger than the national army.

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Summary of the day so far…

  • Israel freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and injured dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians. The freed hostages were named by the Israel Defense Forces as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were taken from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

  • There are growing international concerns about the prospect of a ground offensive on the southern city of Rafah. The Australian government warned that Israel’s plans for a military offensive on Rafah could have “devastating consequences” for Palestinian civilians sheltering there. The foreign minister, Penny Wong, also suggested on Monday that a failure to ensure special care for more than 1 million civilians in the area, many in makeshift tents, would “cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests”. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, meanwhile, said he is “extraordinarily concerned” about Benjamin Netanyahu’s threats to launch attacks on Rafah with no evacuation plan and no prospect of refugee camps in Egypt. On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said: “I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled the destruction.”

  • A Dutch appeals court ordered the Dutch government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel within seven days, according to Reuters. “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

  • Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 28,340 Palestinians and injured 67,984 since 7 October, the health ministry in Gaza said.

  • The UK government has a duty not just to support the orders of the International Court of Justice, but to change UK policy by suspending the supply of arms to Israel, the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has been told by 30 UK-based organisations including legal and atrocity prevention groups.

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Australia warns Israel’s plans for Rafah ground offensive could have ‘devastating consequences’

The Australian government has warned that Israel’s plans for a military offensive on Rafah could have “devastating consequences” for Palestinian civilians sheltering there.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, also suggested on Monday that a failure to ensure special care for more than 1 million civilians in the area, many in makeshift tents, would “cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests”.

Wong said 153 countries, including Australia, had already voted at the UN general assembly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“Many of Israel’s friends, including Australia, have expressed deep concerns about reports of an Israeli military operation in Rafah,” she said on Monday.

“There is growing international consensus: Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community.”

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong speaks during Senate estimates at parliament House in Canberra. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Wong said Israel had a special obligation to “more than a million civilians sheltering in and around Rafah”.

She said:

Many civilians who were displaced in Israeli operations in the north have moved south to this area, often under Israeli direction.

Israel now must exercise special care in relation to these civilians. Not doing so would have devastating consequences for those civilians and cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests.

You can read the full story by the Guardian Australia’s foreign affairs and defence correspondent, Daniel Hurst, here:

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The US Senate will on Monday attempt to steer a $95.34bn package containing aid for Ukraine and Israel to passage this week after months of delays, Reuters reports.

On Sunday, the bill got a boost when the Senate voted 67-27 to move it past an important procedural hurdle. Also over the weekend, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a course for passage by Wednesday.

On Monday, the Senate is expected to cast a procedural vote that, if successful, would keep the bill, which includes funds for border security, moving forward.

The Republican-majority House passed an Israel-only bill in November, but it was never taken up in the Democratic-led Senate, as members worked on Joe Biden’s request for Congress to approve the broader emergency security package.

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Relatives of two hostages rescued overnight from Gaza have appealed for a broader deal between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of other people still held in the Palestinian territory.

The freed hostages were named by the Israel Defense Forces as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were taken from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

AFP reports:

Speaking from an Israeli hospital where the two were undergoing medical tests, Har’s son-in-law described “a lot of tears, hugs, not many words” when the family was reunited.

“Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight. But I must say that the job is not done,” Idan Bejerano told journalists at Sheba hospital near Tel Aviv.

“We are happy today, but we didn’t win. It’s just another step towards bringing all the other” hostages home, he continued.

Marman’s niece, Gefen Sigal Ilan, said she was still “shaking” from the news of her uncle’s rescue.

“When I saw him I couldn’t believe he was real,” she told AFP. She said the families of hostages will keep fighting for the release of other captives.

“I want to say we will not stop until all hostages are free … We will fight for their freedom,” said Ilan, 36.

Talks have been under way for weeks to secure a second truce in the four-month war, which would see more hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Fernando Simon Marman being reunited with his family at the Tel Hashomer hospital in Ramat Gan, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Photograph: Israeli Army/AFP/Getty Images
Louis Har (L) being reunited with his family at the Tel Hashomer hospital in Ramat Gan. Photograph: Israeli Army/AFP/Getty Images

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Nebal Farsakh, the spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, has spoken with Al Jazeera amid international concerns about the prospect of a ground offensive on the southern city of Rafah.

She told the outlet:

Rafah already has nearly half of Gaza’s population. Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, people have been fleeing to Rafah following Israeli evacuation orders. Families have already evacuated up to 10 times.

The question is – where should people go? There is no safe place at all and there is no way to evacuate. On top of that, there is a complete destruction of the infrastructure, and the lack of transportation as well makes it impossible for people to make their way anywhere.

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Dutch court orders halt to export of F-35 jet parts to Israel

A Dutch appeals court has ordered the Dutch government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel within seven days, according to Reuters.

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

The US-owned F-35 parts are stored at a warehouse in the Netherlands and then shipped to several partners, including Israel, via existing export agreements.

“In doing so, the Netherlands is contributing to serious violations of humanitarian law of war in Gaza,” the rights groups, whose appeal was upheld by the court on Monday, argued.

“The court orders the state to cease all actual export and transit of F-35 parts with final destination Israel within seven days after service of this judgment,” the ruling said.

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Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel would not pass up any opportunity to free more hostages from Gaza.

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