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Gaza: Threat of ground invasion looms over Rafah

The Israeli military confirmed on Thursday in a tweet that its special forces had conducted what they called a “precise and limited operation” inside Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza, the largest functioning health facility in the area.

The UN human rights office OHCHR said on Thursday that it was deeply worried over the raid, saying that it appeared to be “part of a pattern of attacks on civilian infrastructure, especially hospitals.”

The raid comes after a week-long siege which cut off medical, food and fuel supplies, said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.  

 “Israeli forces reportedly ordered the transfer of all patients, including those in intensive care and nursery units, to a different building, exposing patients to grave risks, including the risk of death for the most vulnerable“, she continued. 

“There are unconfirmed reports of detention as well as targeting of those trying to leave the hospital.”

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In a tweet on Wednesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), expressed alarm over the increasingly dire situation at the hospital. 

“Access to the hospital remains obstructed — there is no safe corridor for those in need. Two WHO missions have been denied in the last four days, and we lost touch with the hospital’s personnel,” the WHO Director-General said.

He called for humanitarian access and the safeguarding of hospitals by all combatants, stressing that they must remain safe for civilians.

Rafah situation dire

The latest situation update from OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian aid agency, highlights “population movements” away from the southern border city towards Deir al Balah and the Nuseirat refugee camp.

Earlier this week, the World Food Programme (WFP) expressed concern that further displacement from the densely packed city on the Egyptian border could exacerbate the plight of those seeking refuge there. 

Matthew Hollingworth, WFP Country Director for Palestine, describes Rafah’s streets as “packed with throngs of people”, noting that every available space in the city has become a makeshift shelter.

The city is now home to around 1.5 million Gazans displaced by conflict. 

Mr. Hollingworth, speaking in a video released on Thursday on the X platform, highlighted the despair pervading Rafah, where people struggle for support, fuel and sustenance amid “damp, cold and miserable” conditions.

While WFP continues to provide aid to Gazans in Rafah, organizations such as Action Against Hunger that work side-by-side with UN’s humanitarians warn of having to suspend activities if Israeli ground operations expand to Rafah.

Meanwhile, intense Israeli bombardment persists across Gaza, resulting in further civilian casualties and infrastructure damage.

Death toll rising

The Ministry of Health in Gaza reports a death toll of at least 28,576 Palestinians and 68,291 injured since October. Between 13 and 14 February, 103 Palestinians were killed and 145 injured.

Israeli military casualties stand at 230 soldiers killed and 1,352 injured since the start of ground operations, with over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals killed during attacks on Israel, mainly during the Hamas-led massacre of 7 October. 

Some 134 individuals remain captive in Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.

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