Israel’s full-blown assault on the southern part of the Gaza Strip will lead to even more civilian deaths, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned on Saturday, urging for a comprehensive ceasefire.
The minister’s appeal comes as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are conducting strikes on Rafah, a city near the Egyptian border where many Palestinians fled since fighting between Israel and Hamas broke out in October. The IDF had previously urged civilians to evacuate from the northern part of the enclave and move south.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Baerbock said that “1.3 million people are seeking protection from the fighting in a very small space.”
“An offensive by the Israeli army on Rafah would be a humanitarian catastrophe in the making,” Baerbock wrote. “Israel must defend itself against the terror of Hamas, but at same time it must mitigate the suffering of the civilian population as much as possible.”
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that the stated goal of “eliminating Hamas” cannot be achieved without neutralizing the remaining militants in Rafah. The prime minister has tasked the IDF with drafting a plan “for evacuating the population and destroying [Hamas] battalions.”
Fresh IDF strikes on Saturday morning killed at least 44 people in Rafah, according to local Hamas-run authorities. The offensive has prompted renewed calls from abroad to end the violence.
Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot called the looming ground assault “unjustifiable,” given that Rafah is overcrowded with refugees.
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Saturday that “over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area,” calling for an “immediate pause” in the fighting and the release of the remaining hostages by Hamas.
Israel declared war on the militants after Hamas and allied groups attacked Israeli cities on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking over 200 hostages. Dozens of captives were subsequently freed as part of the prisoner swap during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to officials in Gaza.