Rand four months after the start of the Gaza war, Israel apparently also wants to bring the far south of the sealed-off coastal strip under control. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the order on Friday to prepare a military offensive on the city of Rafah. “It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas if four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah,” his office said. Before that, however, the civilians in the city on the border with Egypt should be brought to safety.
A military offensive in Rafah is considered highly problematic. The town, which had around 300,000 inhabitants before the war, is now said to be home to 1.3 million people. Most of them fled there from other parts of the Gaza Strip before the war, partly on orders from the Israeli military.
On October 7th, terrorists on behalf of Hamas carried out a devastating massacre in Israel, especially against civilians. Since then, Israel has been waging war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The high number of civilian casualties in the Gaza war and the disastrous living conditions of the Palestinian civilian population have sparked sharp international criticism of Israel's actions.
UN warns of humanitarian catastrophe
In view of the attack plans, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and consequences for the entire region. Half of the Gaza Strip's population is crammed into Rafah and has nowhere else to go, he wrote on the news platform X, formerly Twitter. Guterres' spokesman Stéphane Dujarric added that they did not want to see mass displacement. The US government and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have also spoken out clearly against military action in Rafah in recent days.
Abbas on possible Rafah offensive: Prelude to expulsion
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has strongly condemned Israel's plans for a military offensive in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Abbas said these represented a “dangerous prelude” to a policy of displacement feared by Palestinians. Abbas accused Israel and its ally USA of “destructive policies”. He called on the UN Security Council to take action. “These steps (considered by Israel) endanger security and peace in the region, they cross all red lines,” he added.
Scholz: Israel's conduct of war must comply with international law
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has called on Israel to keep international law in mind during its military operation in the Gaza Strip. In response to a question about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's preparations for a military operation in the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt, he said during a visit to Washington: “The way of waging war must be consistent with the demands that Israel has on itself, but with international law also brings with it, correspond.”
Media: Israel shells targets near the Syrian capital Damascus
According to media reports, Israeli forces have attacked targets near the Syrian capital Damascus. The Israeli military fired on the Damascus area from the Golan Heights, the Syrian state news agency (Sana) reported, citing a military source. Violent explosions were heard west of the Syrian capital. Syrian air defenses shot down some of the rockets. Sana further reported that there was only material damage. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a residential building west of the Syrian capital was hit.
Fighting again between Israel and Hezbollah
The Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Israeli armed forces have fought again in the Israeli-Lebanese border area. According to the Israeli military, Hezbollah fired several rockets into northern Israel. No people were injured. In response to the attack, Israeli fighter jets bombed a military facility in Marun al-Ras, southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah militiamen were said to have been active, the Israeli military said. Warplanes also attacked military bases in Johmor and Nakura. Israel also used artillery to attack targets across the border in southern Lebanon.
Militia calls for a united front in the fight against US troops in Iraq
After a pro-Iranian militia commander was killed in a US drone strike, a rebel group in Iraq has called for the formation of a united front to fight US troops. In its statement, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq called on other groups to take part in the expulsion of US forces. On Wednesday, the commander of the pro-Iranian militia Kataib Hizbullah, Abu Bakir al-Saadi, was killed in Baghdad in a US drone strike. The United States responded to an attack in Jordan near the Syrian border in which three US soldiers were killed at the end of January.
What will be important on Saturday
Israeli forces are preparing to advance on Rafah. They are supposed to destroy the last units of the Islamist Hamas there. Given the large number of refugees in the city in the far south of the Gaza Strip, observers are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.