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Middle East crisis live: EU foreign policy chief ‘extraordinarily concerned’ about Israel’s planned Rafah offensive


EU foreign policy chief ‘extraordinarily concerned’ about Israel’s planned Rafah offensive

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, has said he is “extraordinarily concerned” about Benjamin Netanyahu’s threats to launch attacks on Rafah with no evacuation plan and no prospect of refugee camps in Egypt.

He said:

I am happy to know that two hostages have been liberated but also very much worried by the situation in the border with Egypt where new military operations seem to be taking place by the Israeli defence forces.

Netanyahu has been asking for the evacuation of 1.7 million people without saying where these people could be evacuated.

The situation with Egypt is very tense and we are extraordinarily concerned about what can happen there.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Speaking on the way into a meeting of UNWRA commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, and the EU’s development ministers, he added: “Even in the US, which is the strongest supporter of Israel, President Biden himself considers that this action is disproportionate.”

“The toll of people being killed, civilians being killed is unbearable,” he said, adding that the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had been “begging” Netanyahu “to stop killing people”.

“If they launch an offensive against a highly populated area with more than 1.7 million people, they will crash against a wall, they cannot escape,” he said.

On Donald Trump and Nato he was sharply critical. “Nato is not an a la carte alliance that depends on the humour of the US president,” he said after the former president said he would “encourage” Russia to attack any of the US’s Nato allies whom he considers to have not met their financial obligations.

Updated at 

Key events

Relatives of two hostages rescued overnight from Gaza have appealed for a broader deal between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of other people still held in the Palestinian territory.

The freed hostages were named by the Israel Defense Forces as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were taken from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

AFP reports:

Speaking from an Israeli hospital where the two were undergoing medical tests, Har’s son-in-law described “a lot of tears, hugs, not many words” when the family was reunited.

“Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight. But I must say that the job is not done,” Idan Bejerano told journalists at Sheba hospital near Tel Aviv.

“We are happy today, but we didn’t win. It’s just another step towards bringing all the other” hostages home, he continued.

Marman’s niece, Gefen Sigal Ilan, said she was still “shaking” from the news of her uncle’s rescue.

“When I saw him I couldn’t believe he was real,” she told AFP. She said the families of hostages will keep fighting for the release of other captives.

“I want to say we will not stop until all hostages are free … We will fight for their freedom,” said Ilan, 36.

Talks have been under way for weeks to secure a second truce in the four-month war, which would see more hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Nebal Farsakh, the spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, has spoken with Al Jazeera amid international concerns about the prospect of a ground offensive on the southern city of Rafah.

She told the outlet:

Rafah already has nearly half of Gaza’s population. Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, people have been fleeing to Rafah following Israeli evacuation orders. Families have already evacuated up to 10 times.

The question is – where should people go? There is no safe place at all and there is no way to evacuate. On top of that, there is a complete destruction of the infrastructure, and the lack of transportation as well makes it impossible for people to make their way anywhere.

Updated at 

Dutch court orders halt to export of F-35 jet parts to Israel

A Dutch appeals court has ordered the Dutch government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel within seven days, according to Reuters.

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

The US-owned F-35 parts are stored at a warehouse in the Netherlands and then shipped to several partners, including Israel, via existing export agreements.

“In doing so, the Netherlands is contributing to serious violations of humanitarian law of war in Gaza,” the rights groups, whose appeal was upheld by the court on Monday, argued.

“The court orders the state to cease all actual export and transit of F-35 parts with final destination Israel within seven days after service of this judgment,” the ruling said.

Updated at 

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel would not pass up any opportunity to free more hostages from Gaza.

Death toll in Gaza reaches 28,340, says health ministry

Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 28,340 Palestinians and injured 67,984 since 7 October, the health ministry in Gaza said on Monday.

Most of the casualties have been women and children, the ministry has said, and thousands more bodies are likely to remain uncounted under rubble across Gaza.

EU foreign policy chief ‘extraordinarily concerned’ about Israel’s planned Rafah offensive

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, has said he is “extraordinarily concerned” about Benjamin Netanyahu’s threats to launch attacks on Rafah with no evacuation plan and no prospect of refugee camps in Egypt.

He said:

I am happy to know that two hostages have been liberated but also very much worried by the situation in the border with Egypt where new military operations seem to be taking place by the Israeli defence forces.

Netanyahu has been asking for the evacuation of 1.7 million people without saying where these people could be evacuated.

The situation with Egypt is very tense and we are extraordinarily concerned about what can happen there.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Speaking on the way into a meeting of UNWRA commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, and the EU’s development ministers, he added: “Even in the US, which is the strongest supporter of Israel, President Biden himself considers that this action is disproportionate.”

“The toll of people being killed, civilians being killed is unbearable,” he said, adding that the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had been “begging” Netanyahu “to stop killing people”.

“If they launch an offensive against a highly populated area with more than 1.7 million people, they will crash against a wall, they cannot escape,” he said.

On Donald Trump and Nato he was sharply critical. “Nato is not an a la carte alliance that depends on the humour of the US president,” he said after the former president said he would “encourage” Russia to attack any of the US’s Nato allies whom he considers to have not met their financial obligations.

Updated at 

At least 67 Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes in Rafah – health officials

We reported earlier that hospital officials told the Associated Press that at least 50 people had been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied the hostage rescue operation in Rafah.

Now, Palestinian health officials say the operation killed at least 67 Palestinians, including women and children.

A joint operation by the Israeli military, the domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, the military said.

Updated at 

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Germany has said UNWRA’s work in Gaza must continue in parallel with the investigation into allegations that several workers were involved in Hamas’s October terrorist attacks on Israel.

Ahead of a meeting in Brussels with UNWRA chiefs, Germany’s development minister, Jochen Flasbarth, said it had paused additional new finance for UNWRA until the investigation into the allegations is concluded.

But he added:

This is not a payment stop and it does not include UNRWA outside the Gaza Strip.

We believe that the UN has taken the right steps, but I also say that UNRWA’s work is not replaceable in the Gaza Strip.

Many people are dying, but human aid is indispensable and we need UNRWA for that.

Updated at 

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said only 15 out of 36 hospitals in Gaza were “still partially or minimally functioning” and that aid workers were doing their best in impossible circumstances.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he said the WHO, the UN’s health agency, continued to call for safe access for humanitarian personnel and supplies, for Hamas to release hostages, and for a ceasefire.

“I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled the destruction,” he said.

“So far, we have delivered 447 metric tonnes of medical supplies to Gaza, but it’s a drop in the ocean of need, which continues to grow every day.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks as he attends a session of the World Government Summit in Dubai. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/Reuters

UK has duty to suspend the supply of arms to Israel, legal groups tell David Cameron

Patrick Wintour

Patrick Wintour

The UK government has a duty not just to support the orders of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but to change UK policy by suspending the supply of arms to Israel, the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has been told by 30 UK-based organisations including legal and atrocity prevention groups.

The letter, sent last week, argues the government as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, “is bound to ensure it helps prevent and ensure it is not complicit in violations of the convention. The provisional measures issued by the ICJ therefore have immediate and urgent implications for UK policy.”

The Israeli government has been given until 23 February to report to the ICJ on what it has done to comply with six orders the court issued last month, including one relating to ending incitement to genocide and another requiring immediate steps to improve the supply of humanitarian aid.

Gilad Noam, deputy attorney-general for international affairs (L), and lawyer Malcolm Shaw (R) during a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, in January 2024. Photograph: Remko de Waal/EPA

Israel says it is allowing food and water into Gaza, and only making checks to stop items being diverted to Hamas. It has also denied it has any intention of committing genocide, and the ICJ has not ruled one is taking place. Civilian casualties are due to the close urban warfare, and Hamas refusal to release hostages.

The briefing from the UK-based organisations spelling out the implications of the orders issued to Israel by the ICJ for other signatories to the Genocide Convention has also been sent to the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, and to the UK special envoy for humanitarian aid in Gaza, Mark Bryson-Richardson.

The group claimed the government now “must ensure that it is in no way enabling or otherwise complicit in the commission of acts that the court has found could plausibly be in violation of the convention”.

They add: “In light of the court’s findings, there is now a clear risk, as set out under the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria (SELC), that British arms and military equipment transferred to Israel might be used to facilitate or commit violations of the Genocide Convention as well as violations of international humanitarian law”.

They also say the government “must become far more assertive in its condemnation” of any Israeli government statements and rhetoric that could be deemed to incite genocide.

Similarly, the UK must recognise the court’s finding that the withholding of basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza could violate the Genocide Convention and that Israel has therefore been ordered to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life”.

They say this requires Israel immediately to “reverse its decision to deprive water and electricity to Palestinians in Gaza both of which constitute urgently needed basic services”.

The authors argue the UK response to the ICJ ruling is central to Britain’s reputation. “The UK has long considered itself a leader in the realms of justice and accountability, supporting the process for the new crimes against humanity treaty, securing an investigative mechanism via the Human Rights Council for Sudan, intervening in the genocide case brought by the Gambia against Myanmar which is currently before the ICJ,” they write.

“The application of justice and accountability for international crimes can never be selective. Inconsistency is the enabler of impunity everywhere. The UK must be steadfast in its support of the ICJ as a competent and appropriate court to hear and investigate state disputes regarding the Genocide Convention, and ensure that the court’s decisions are respected and abided by. Failure to do so risks the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. It also risks unravelling the very foundations of the international rules-based system of international justice, and the UK’s role in the world – playing into the hands of actors who have everything to gain from a broken United Nations.”

In recent weeks the UK Foreign Office has stepped up its demands for both sides to back a humanitarian pause leading to a ceasefire. Cameron on Saturday said he was also deeply concerned by a possible attack on Rafah in Southern Gaza saying “half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there”.

Bryson-Richardson has been negotiating daily with Israeli authorities, urging them to restore water supply lines, reconnect electricity supplies and let in sufficient fuel to power critical infrastructure like bakeries.

But there has been no public statement from the UK government that Israel’s actions subsequent to the court judgment may be in breach of the ICJ order, or that the UK will take new steps to demand aid is delivered.

Dr Kate Ferguson, co-executive director of Protection Approaches and one of the letter’s authors, said:“I worry the UK is still conflating the armed conflict with Hamas and the campaign being waged against the Palestinian people. The order to evacuate and prepare for a ground offensive in Rafah is a brazen disregard of the ICJ order and must be taken as an urgent warning of further atrocity crimes against civilians.”

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said: “Israel is bound by international law and continues to act against a genocidal terrorist organisation, which commits war crimes as well as crimes against humanity.

“Israel is enabling the entrance of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and is facilitating the transfer of any amount of aid requested. The scope of incoming aid is limited only by the handling capabilities of the UN and other aid agencies within the Gaza Strip.

“Claims regarding the food situation in Gaza are inaccurate and are intended to divert the focus from the ongoing failure of these organisations in handling and managing the distribution of aid to the residents who need it.”

Updated at 

The Associated Press has some more information about the operation that led to the two Israeli hostages being freed in Rafah:

Israeli military spokesperson Read Adm. Daniel Hagari said the two hostages had been held in a second-floor apartment in Rafah, under guard from Hamas gunmen, both in the apartment and nearby buildings.

Hagari said special forces broke into the apartment under fire at 1:49 am on Monday, accompanied a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with Hamas gunmen.

The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area,” given a quick medical check and airlifted to Sheba medical centre in central Israel. Their medical condition was reported to be good. They are just the second and third hostage to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.

Hagari said the operation was based on precise intelligence and planned for some time. Netanyahu joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated his call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Reuters reports.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said on the sidelines of the World Governments Summit in Dubai that medical supplies provided to Gaza so far represent “a drop in the ocean of need which continues to grow every day”.

Summary of the day so far

It’s 9:10am in Gaza and Tel Aviv and here are the latest developments:

  • Hospital officials in Rafah say at least 50 people have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied a hostage rescue operation, according to the Associated Press. Dr Marwan al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, said that the dead included women and children. An Associated Press journalist also counted the bodies brought to hospital.

  • The bombing in Rafah caused widespread panic in the city as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah. Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

  • A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, the Israeli military said.

  • Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, has told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital, according to Associated Press.

  • Reuters is reporting that Hamas said in a statement that the strikes are a continuation of the ‘genocidal war’ and the forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.

  • US president Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah, the Associated Press reports.

  • New Zealand has urged Israel to rethink a planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to reports from Australian Associated Press. On Monday afternoon, New Zealand’s prime minister, Chris Luxon, said: “Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas … There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that.”

  • A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

Updated at 

A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

The incident occurred before 0400 local time (0100 GMT) in an area where Houthi rebels have repeatedly targeted Red Sea shipping in recent months, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said in a report.

“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to next port of call,” UKMTO said.

Another security firm, Ambrey, said the Marshall Islands-flagged, Greece-owned bulk carrier “was targeted by missiles in two separate incidents” within 20 minutes and “was reportedly hit and sustained physical damage on the starboard side”.

The vessel had a private armed security team on board, Ambrey said.





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