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UN chief Guterres appeals for international pressure to stop Israel incursion into Rafah

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United Nations, May 1: As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood firmly by his determination to send troops into Rafah, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for international pressure to stop the attack on the area where more than 1.2 million Palestinians are sheltering from Israeli invasion that has rolled across most of Gaza.

“I appeal for all those with influence over Israel to do everything in their power to prevent it,” he said on Tuesday.

“A military assault on Rafah would be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee” the area where “more than 1.2 million people are now seeking shelter in Rafah governorate, most of them fleeing the Israeli bombardment that has reportedly killed over 34,000 people”, he said at a news conference.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, stated firmly: “We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate Hamas’ battalions there, with or without a deal, to achieve the total victory”.

The statement came ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel where he is expected to reinforce President Joe Biden’s opposition to the invasion of Rafah, which, according to the White House, the President reiterated to Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday.

Guterres warned that an incursion into Rafah would have “serious repercussions on the occupied West Bank, and across the wider region”.

The US and its allies have been trying to get Israel and Hamas on a deal that would lead to a ceasefire and the release of some hostages kidnapped by the terror organisation in an attack on Israel in October.

Blinken said in Riyadh on Monday that “Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily – extraordinarily – generous on the part of Israel”.

“And in this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas. They have to decide, and they have to decide quickly,” he said.

According to media reports, Israel has lowered the number of hostages it demanded freed to less than 40 in exchange for the release of some Palestinian prisoners and a limited ceasefire.

Guterres warned that a famine was looming over Gaza because of limited access to food. He called for the opening of two more crossing points between Israel and northern Gaza to enable the delivery of aid into Gaza from Ashdod port and Jordan.

According to the State Department, Blinken on Tuesday met UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag in Amman and discussed the “shared commitment to surge critical humanitarian assistance in Gaza and ensure the recent increase in delivery of assistance is accelerated and sustained”.

Guterres said that he was “deeply alarmed” by the discovery of mass graves in Gaza, including at two medical complexes.

Given the “competing narratives” around the mass graves and the killing of those buried there, he said that “it is imperative that independent international investigators, with forensic expertise, are allowed immediate access to the sites of these mass graves”.

Guterres reiterated his condemnation of Hamas with a reference to the Jewish holy days. “As Passover ends, I once again express my solidarity with the victims of the unconscionable Hamas terror attacks of 7 October, with the hostages, and with their families and friends.”

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed at @arulouis)

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