• Khan Yunis packed to brim with Palestinians fleeing bombing
• Aid amasses on Egyptian side, but Cairo yet to open crossing
• Netanyahu says no to ceasefire for evacuation
• Occupying emptied enclave would be a mistake, Biden warns Tel Aviv
GAZA: The Israeli military on Monday struck the area of Rafah border crossing with Egypt, where thousands of Palestinians hoping to cross to safety have been gathering for the past several days.
Cairo said the Rafah crossing is not officially closed, but was made inoperable due to Israeli air strikes on the Gaza side.
“There is an urgent need to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters, adding that talks with Israel had not been fruitful.
Israel has been bombing Gaza for 10 days now, flattening neighbourhoods and killing at least 2,750 Palestinians, and has ordered half the enclave’s population to leave north Gaza in anticipation of a ground offensive.
But despite issuing the order to evacuate, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out the possibility of a temporary ceasefire to allow aid supplies in or get foreigners out of the bombardment zone.
In addition, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has warned of a long war with a high price.
Time is running out to save millions of people in the besieged Gaza Strip as water supplies have dried up and food and fuel stocks are dwindling, aid agencies said on Monday.
“There are 24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left” in Gaza, WHO regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari told AFP in an interview in Cairo. If aid is not allowed in, doctors will have to “prepare death certificates for their patients”, he said in a stark warning.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that the entire Middle East region was “on the verge of the abyss”, as Israel faces a potential second front on its northern border with Lebanon.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been shuttling between Middle Eastern capitals in recent days, returned to Israel on Monday after talks in six Arab states, hoping to find ways to alleviate Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.
The trip comes as President Joe Biden, who abruptly called off a trip to Colorado on Monday, is said to be weighing an invitation to visit Israel to show solidarity with Washington’s primary ally in the Middle East.
The Biden administration has warned against more extreme measures, such as mass expulsion of Palestinians, a prospect feared by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
In an interview with CBS News, President Biden offered rare criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza, saying that any bid by Tel Aviv to re-occupy the enclave would be “a mistake”.
The White House has stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, but in remarks made in Cairo, Blinken also said: “Civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas’s atrocities”.
Catastrophe in south Gaza
Entire families, young children and the elderly have packed what belongings they can to flee to the southern Gaza Strip, bedding down in any available space, indoors and out.
In southern Gaza, the city of Khan Yunis, usually home to 400,000 people, has more than doubled in population within just days, with terrified families hunkering down wherever they can.
The UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees said on Sunday that one million people had already been displaced in the first week of the conflict — but the number was likely to be higher.
At a mortuary in the southern city of Rafah, Fatma Hamouda said she lost her maternal uncles in an air strike that destroyed the family home.
“The house they were in was supposed to be safe,” she said, crying.
“No electricity, no water, no internet, no cell network, no diapers, no milk. Even if we die of hunger, we will stay here and we will not leave.” Israel said on Sunday it switched water supplies back on in the south to encourage Gazans to leave the north.
“The situation is catastrophic beyond what I could have imagined,” said Jamil Abdullah, a Palestinian-Swede who is hoping to leave after being forced to sleep on the street.
“There are corpses in the streets. Buildings are crashing down on their inhabitants. Blood is everywhere. The smell of the dead is everywhere.”
In Gaza City too, authorities were preparing mass graves, said the head of the Government Media Office, Salama Marouf.
In light of the large number of martyrs inside the morgues of Al-Shifa Hospital, whose relatives did not arrive to bury them, signs of change began to appear on the bodies,“ he said.
“And in light of the continued arrival of martyrs in their dozens as a result of the occupation’s massacres, a mass grave has been prepared to bury approximately 100 martyrs in the emergency cemetery.”
Focus on Rafah
On Monday, Reuters reported on the possibility of a temporary ceasefire in southern Gaza to facilitate aid and evacuations at Rafah. However, Egyptian state TV later quoted an unnamed, high-level source as saying that no truce had been agreed.
Hamas official Izzat El-Reshiq told Reuters that reports of a deal to open the crossing were untrue, and Israel also denied them.
On the ground at Rafah, one source said the Egyptian side of the crossing was ready. Shoukry said Egypt aimed to restore regular access through Rafah, including for Palestinians seeking medical treatment or normal travel.
Hundreds of tonnes of aid from NGOs and several countries were waiting in Al Arish for conditions to allow entry to Gaza.
“We are waiting for the green light for the aid to enter and dozens of volunteers are ready at any time,” a Red Crescent official in northern Sinai said.
Separately, Reuters video showed UN-flagged fuel trucks appearing to leave Gaza for Egypt through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2023