Israeli offensive in Rafah would have ‘catastrophic consequences’ says EU chief

Israel’s military offensive in Rafah, a south Gaza city where Palestinians have found refuge amid the conflict in the north of the region, will have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians, the EU’s foreign policy chief has warned.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country’s military to evacuate the southern city on Friday evening ahead of an anticipated ground assault.

Over 1.4 million people are estimated to currently live in the city – many of them having fled there to seek refuge from Israel’s combat operations across the rest of the region.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell said the call for evacuation was “alarming”, and would lead to “catastrophic consequences worsening the already dire humanitarian situation”.

“1.4 million Palestinians are currently in Rafah without safe place to go, facing starvation”, he said in a post on X.

Mr Netanyahu told his Israel Defence Force officials Friday evening to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas.

The Israeli leader’s office said four of Hamas’ battalions were in Rafah and it was not possible to “achieve the goal of war without eliminating” the militant group.

“On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat,” he said.

As the IDF’s campaign now moves further south to the city, which is a crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, it is unknown where Palestinians in Rafah will relocate to find refuge in the region.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said it was a “humanitarian nightmare” in the city. “We are extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah,” the UN chief’s spokesperson said.

“I think what is clear is that people need to be protected, but we also do not want to see any forced displacement, forced mass displacement of people.”

The White House also heavily warned against the invasion of the southern city, warning: “To conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster.”

It comes after Mr Netanyahu earlier this week rejected Hamas’ ceasefire proposal. He said negotiations with the group were “not going anywhere” and called the militant group’s terms “bizarre”.

The prime minister said he also believed “total victory” over Hamas was just months away.