UN warns Israeli ground invasion of Rafah "could lead to a slaughter" as Cairo Quartet Meeting races to resolve Gaza crisis - as it happened

Ahram Online , Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

On the 130th day of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, Tel Aviv faces growing international pressure to agree to a ceasefire in Gaza, as the Israeli army kills tens of Palestinian civilians in Rafah overnight and in dawn airstrikes amid its plans for a ground invasion that spells more deaths for 1.4 million Palestinian displaced in and around the city in the southmost of the strip.

Back to centre
Members of a Palestinian family ride in the back of a truck with belongings as they flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip taking the coastal road north towards the central Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. AFP


22: 00 UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned on Tuesday that Israel's planned military assault into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last bastion of refuge for more than a million Palestinians, "could lead to a slaughter." 

"The international community has been warning against the dangerous consequences of any ground invasion in Rafah. The Government of Israel cannot continue to ignore these calls," Griffiths said in a statement. "Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza."

More than half of Gaza's 2.4 million people have sought refuge in Rafah, pressed up against the Egypt border in makeshift camps where they face outbreaks of hepatitis and diarrhea, and a scarcity of food and water.

With Rafah on edge, some families, already displaced several times, began dismantling their tents and prepared to move on again.

"We are sleeping in the street, (the tent) doesn't have a roof, it's made of nylon -- if it gets hit by a missile, you will die instantly," said Gazan Fayez Abed.

The imminent Israeli assault on the southernmost city, one of the  so-called safe zones declared by Israel in Gaza, has echoed remarks made by the UN on the situation for Palestinians in the strip

"There is no place that is currently safe in Gaza," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

21:00 A high-level informed Egyptian source told Al-Qahera News that the “atmosphere” of the Cairo Quartet Meeting between the top negotiators from Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and Israel to resolve the Gaza crisis was positive.

The source added that consultations will continue over the next three days.

20:30 Israel’s far-right finance minister has confirmed that he is blocking a massive shipment of flour to the Gaza Strip because the supplies are destined for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

In a post-Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accused UNRWA of cooperating with Hamas. He said he is working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find an “alternative distribution mechanism that won’t reach the hands of Hamas.”

UNRWA’s director, Philippe Lazzarini, said on Friday that the convoy of food donated by Turkey has been held up by Israeli authorities in an Israeli port for weeks. The agency says the shipment includes rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar, and cooking oil. It's enough to feed 1.1 million people for one month.

The holdup comes as an estimated 25 percent of Gaza families face catastrophic hunger.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of tolerating or collaborating with Hamas — a charge the agency denies.

Israel last month said 12 UNRWA employees participated in the deadly 7 Oct cross-border raid that sparked the war. UNRWA immediately fired most of the employees, but the allegations prompted key donors, including the United States, to suspend funding.

UNRWA, the largest distributor of aid in Gaza, has launched reviews into its operations and the allegations against it. It has warned that it will have to halt its operations by the end of the month if funding isn’t restored.

20:00 Ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the deposit ratings of five Israeli banks after it earlier downgraded the country’s sovereign credit rating and warned that the ongoing war in Gaza and a possible war with Hezbollah could negatively affect Israel’s economy.

Moody’s on Tuesday downgraded the long- and short-term deposit ratings of Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Israel Discount Bank, and First International Bank of Israel from A2 to A3, with a negative outlook. On Friday, the agency downgraded the country’s sovereign debt rating, which is used by investors to gauge the risk of investing in a country, from A1 to A2.

The A2 rating still carries relatively low risk and is well within investment grade, but it was the first time Moody’s lowered Israel’s credit rating. The country’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, dismissed the move, describing the announcement as a “political manifesto” that “did not include serious economic claims.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel’s economy was strong and attributed the downgrade “to the fact that we are at war.” He vowed the rating would go up again once the war against Hamas was over.

19:30 The leader of Yemen's Houthi movement has said the group had been able to prevent Israeli-linked ships from passing through the Gulf of Aden over the past week.

"This is a real victory," Abdul Malik Al-Houthi said in a televised speech.

The Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive in Gaza since November. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast, and Europe.

19:00 The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group indicated on Tuesday that it would halt its attacks on Israel and commit to a cease-fire in southern Lebanon after a settlement is reached in Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.

Hassan Nasrallah, however, said that the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is also an ally of  Hamas, would continue its attacks if Israel resumes cross-border fire.

“When there is a cease-fire in Gaza, we will stop in the south,” he said.

The remark was apparently in response to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comments saying that strikes against the militant group won’t stop even with a cease-fire in Gaza.

Nasrallah also called on residents in southern Lebanon to turn off their cellphones and cameras, warning them that they are key sources of Israeli intelligence gathering activities that are used to target Hezbollah officials and militants.

18:00 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday he hopes talks on a pause in Israel’s Gaza war will be successful so an Israeli offensive in the city of Rafah can be avoided, warning that it would have "devastating consequences," Reuters reported.

Israel’s plans to invade Rafah would result in the mass deportation of over 1.4 million Palestinians currently sheltering in the last designated “safe zone” in the Gaza Strip.

It also risks the mass deportation of the Palestinians into Egypt, plans Israel has made public and Egypt has categorically refused on several occasions.

In a public statement on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the Israeli army to submit a plan to the Cabinet for “evacuating the (Palestinian) population” from Rafah.

In the same way, several top Israeli military officials have made similar remarks, with the pattern of military action on the ground strongly suggesting an imminent ground invasion and assault of the southernmost city bordering Egypt.

17:15 Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi received Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in the presence of Head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service Abbas Kamel.

According to the Egyptian Presidency, El-Sisi and the Qatari PM emphasized the need for the international community to exert efforts to prevent the expansion of the conflict and the increase of tensions in the region.

17:00 Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi met with CIA Director William Burns in Cairo, where they reviewed the latest developments in the Gaza Strip, according to the Egyptian Presidency's statement.

During the meeting, both sides stressed the importance of intensive consultation and coordination to reach a ceasefire, protect civilians, and implement the two-state solution, to ensure security and stability in the region.

16:45 Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera said Tuesday two of its journalists were severely wounded in an Israeli strike in Gaza's southern city of Rafah.

Reporter Ismail Abu Omar's life is at risk after he had his right leg amputated, while doctors are attempting to save the left one, Al Jazeera said quoting an emergency physician.

Cameraman Ahmad Matar was described by Al Jazeera as being in a "serious condition" after being targeted by an Israeli drone in northern Rafah.

The two journalists were admitted to the European Hospital, on the southern edge of Khan Younis city.

The health ministry in Gaza said the two were hit in a strike from an Israeli warplane in the Moraj area.

The government media office said it "condemns in the strongest terms the Israeli occupation army's targeting of the Al Jazeera crew."

16:00 The South African government said Tuesday it had lodged an “urgent request” with the International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah constitute a breach of the court's provisional orders handed down in the genocide case last month.

The request asks the U.N. court to determine whether Israel’s indication that it would launch a ground offensive in Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians from elsewhere in war-battered Gaza have fled to escape fighting — represents a “further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.”

The African country is also asking the court in the Netherlands to consider further provisional measures against Israel, according to a statement released by the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

South Africa alleges that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in its war against Gaza's militant Hamas group.

The United Nations’ top court handed down a preliminary ruling last month in the case, issuing six orders, including asking Israel to do all it can to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians and the destruction of Gaza.

15:00 Representatives from Egypt, Qatar, the US, and Israel have started a four-way meeting in Cairo to discuss prisoner swap and ceasefire deal in the Gaza war.

The meeting is attended by CIA chief William Burns,  Mossad director David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Egyptian intelligence officials.

14:00 Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing the under-bombardment Rafah in the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip - back to central Gaza.

Photographers captured images of whole families who packed their children and belongings on all types of vehicles heading north to the central areas of the strip.

Most of those fleeing Rafah are being displaced for the third and fourth time since the start of the Israeli aggression on the strip on 7 October.

13:00 The Israeli army's deadly raids continue unabated in the occupied West Bank. 

On Monday, occupation forces blew up a Palestinian home in the village of Sir, south of Jenin, according to the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA).

Local sources reported that the occupation forces surrounded a house in the village owned by a citizen of the Irshid family, and targeted it with an Energa anti-tank rifle grenade, setting it on fire.

The occupation forces demanded that a young man inside it surrender himself.

Four Palestinians, including two siblings, were detained from the village, while three others were detained from nearby villages.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian youth was Tuesday shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces during a raid into the city of Qalqilya, according to WAFA.

The sources said that Mohamed Sharif Salmi was killed by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers.

Local sources said that the occupation forces stormed the city and opened fire on Salmi while he was in his vehicle in the Al-Bireen area.

The city's education directorate said that schools would shift to e-learning due to the ongoing tensions in the city.

12:00 Two more Palestinian reporters, Ala'a Al-Hams and Angham Adwan, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah in southern Gaza.

This brings the number of journalists killed by Israel since the start of its aggression on the Gaza Strip on 7 October to 133, according to the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA).

Alaa Hassan Al-Hams, 35, worked as a journalist with Sanad Agency.

Angham Ahmed Adwan, a journalist from Libya's February Channel, and had recently returned to report from the strip.

Both were killed by Israeli bombardment targeting civilian homes in Rafah.

In early December, Alaa lost 11 members of her family in an Israeli airstrike that left her with a spinal injury. 

Alaa, who leaves a son, Abdullah, behind, was laid to rest on Tuesday morning.

Palestinian and international media outfits have repeatedly warned the Israeli army against targeting media crews and called for their protection.

Palestinian journalists have maintained that Israel deliberately targets them to stop them from reporting on its atrocities in the Gaza war.


Alaa Al-Hams


11:15  The Palestinian health ministry reported that five people were killed and others were injured in dawn airstrikes on a house owned by the Qadouha family in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, according to the Palestine News and Info Agency (WAFA).

Meanwhile, a child was killed and at least four other civilians were injured in an Israeli bombing of the Brazil Neighbourhood in Rafah.

Also on Tuesday morning, large explosions were heard in the western areas of Rafah.

On Monday evening, more than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah.

Meanwhile, Israeli artillery targeted the eastern and western areas of the Khan Younis governorate to the north of Rafah.

The Israeli army cut off all electricity to the Nasser Medical Complex in the city, which has been under bombardment for weeks, according to eyewitness reports.

On Monday, seven people were killed and 14 medical staff and displaced civilians were injured by Israeli sniper fire in the courtyards of the hospital.

The most recent Israeli massacres bring the death toll among Palestinians to 28,473 and the number of wounded to 68,146 since the beginning of the aggression on the Gaza Strip on 7 October.

The Palestinian casualty toll from Israeli airstrikes and bombardment on Monday was 133 killed and tens injured.


People march calling on Israel to stop its Rafah invasion in Gaza on February 12 2024 in New York City. AFP


10:30 Mossad director David Barnea will meet CIA chief William Burns in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on a Gaza ceasefire, Israeli officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions.

They will be joined in the Egyptian capital by Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egyptian intelligence officials, who have brokered previous Gaza ceasefires.

10:00 China urged Israel on Tuesday to stop its military operation in the Gazan city of Rafah "as soon as possible", warning of a "serious humanitarian disaster" there if fighting did not stop.

"China follows closely the developments in the Rafah area, opposes and condemns actions that harm civilians and violate international law," a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

Beijing urged Israel to "stop its military operation as soon as possible, (and) make every effort to avoid innocent civilian casualties, to prevent a more serious humanitarian disaster in the Rafah area."

09:00 CIA Director William Burns was due in Cairo on Tuesday for a new round of talks on a Qatari-brokered ceasefire proposal that would temporarily halt fighting in exchange for Hamas freeing captives.

His planned visit comes after Washington and the United Nations warned Israel against carrying out a ground offensive into Rafah without a plan to protect civilians who have nowhere left to go.

"Wherever we go there's bombing, martyrs and wounded," said Iman Dergham, a displaced Palestinian woman.

After White House talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday, US President Joe Biden said civilians in Rafah "need to be protected."

"Many people there have been displaced - displaced multiple times, fleeing the violence to the north, and now they're packed into Rafah - exposed and vulnerable," he said.

King Abdullah pushed for a full ceasefire to end the four-month-old war.

"We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe," he said. "We need a lasting ceasefire now."

After rejecting Hamas's terms for a truce last week, Israel conducted a predawn raid in Rafah on Monday that freed two of its captives and killed around 100 Palestinians.

Netanyahu hailed the operation that freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, as "perfect", while the Palestinian foreign ministry said the deaths of dozens of Gazans amounted to a "massacre".

The rare rescue mission came hours after the Israel premier spoke with Biden, who reiterated his opposition to a major assault on Rafah.

Short link: