Israel seizes Rafah crossing, cutting off Gaza’s last humanitarian lifeline amid famine crisis

This move effectively cuts off a critical humanitarian aid route to the enclave, where the majority of the population faces imminent famine due to ongoing conflict.

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Image Credit: Ramez Habboud/Anadolu via Getty Images

Amid escalating tensions and mounting global alarm, the Israeli military seized control of the Gaza side of Rafah’s border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday. This move effectively cuts off a critical humanitarian aid route to the enclave, where the majority of the population faces imminent famine due to ongoing conflict.

Rafah, located at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, has historically been a lifeline for nearly 1.4 million Palestinians living under siege. It serves as the main entry point for food, medical supplies, and foreign aid into Gaza. The closure of this vital passage threatens to exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in the region, where essential supplies are scarce, and malnutrition rates are rising.

The Israeli military’s action at Rafah followed a series of intense military engagements and diplomatic efforts. Just hours before tanks rolled across the border, Israel had dismissed a ceasefire proposal mediated by Egypt and Qatar, which Hamas had accepted. The rejection came amidst increasing international calls for de-escalation and was followed by a forced evacuation of over 100,000 people from Rafah, escalating fears of a large-scale humanitarian disaster.

The shutdown of Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings has paralyzed the flow of aid and goods into Gaza. Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted the severity of the situation. “A lasting shutdown of the route will plunge this crisis into unprecedented levels of need, including the very real possibility of a famine,” he stated. The sentiment was echoed by Sam Rose, director of planning at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, who noted, “No aid coming in means no aid distributed after a couple of days. And equally importantly, Rafah and Kerem Shalom are the only entry points for fuel in Gaza, so without the fuel there’s no ability for trucks to move around, there’s no electricity. It cuts off everything.”

The international community has expressed strong disapproval of Israel’s actions, with several nations and organizations calling for an immediate reopening of the border crossing and for Israel to adhere to international humanitarian law. Inside Israel, the military’s tactics have also sparked protests and criticism from a segment of the population, highlighting a deep divide over the government’s approach to the Gaza conflict.

The seizure of Rafah Crossing has significant implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations, potentially derailing any progress toward peace negotiations. It also places the U.S. in a precarious position, as it balances its strategic alliance with Israel and its stated commitment to human rights. Senator Bernie Sanders has been vocal, urging President Joe Biden to reassess U.S. military aid to Israel. “The U.S. must end all offensive military aid,” Sanders said, emphasizing the need to protect civilian lives.

The actions at Rafah raise substantial legal and ethical questions. International humanitarian law requires all parties in a conflict to ensure civilian access to necessary humanitarian aid. The blockade of Rafah Crossing may constitute a violation of these laws, given its impact on civilian life.

Residents of Rafah have shared harrowing tales of survival and despair. One resident, whose family was killed in recent airstrikes, told reporters, “We are cut off from the world, living in a nightmare with no end in sight.” These personal stories underscore the human cost of the conflict and the urgent need for a humanitarian response.

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his call for peace, stating, “Humanitarian aid must be allowed to flow freely and at scale. And the hostages and those arbitrarily detained must be released at once.”

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