The Israeli military has ordered Palestinians to evacuate eastern Rafah, warning of the imminent use of extreme force in southern Gaza. This directive follows a night of bombardment which killed 22 Palestinians, including eight children, in Rafah. The airstrikes were reportedly in response to Hamas rocket attacks on the Karem Abu Salem crossing, which claimed the lives of three Israeli soldiers.

The evacuation order comes as truce negotiations in Cairo seem to have stalled.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that a ground offensive in Rafah would “put the final nail in the coffin” for humanitarian aid operations in the region. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs emphasised that any such operation would result in “more suffering and death” for over a million displaced Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah. One official said that it could lead to “a slaughter of civilians.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the potential assault, saying it is “completely unacceptable.” A statement issued by the foreign ministers of 26 EU member states urged Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider, warning that the offensive would “worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation.”

US President Joe Biden and other US officials have repeatedly cautioned against a ground offensive in Rafah. Reportedly, President Biden conveyed to Netanyahu that the US would oppose the offensive unless adequate provisions were made to ensure the safety and well-being of Palestinians in the area. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed doubts about the efficacy of the plan to protect civilians.

Multiple aid agencies, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that an assault on Rafah would worsen the humanitarian crisis, leaving millions of civilians with nowhere else to turn.

Since the start of its war on Gaza on 7 October, Israel has killed at least 34,683 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded 78,018 others.