Tensions escalate as Israel threatens ground invasion of Gaza’s Rafah raising international concern

In a stern statement on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Israel against launching a major assault on Rafah without a clear plan to protect civilians.

Tensions are escalating rapidly in the Gaza Strip as Israel threatens a ground invasion of Rafah, one of the territory’s most densely populated areas where 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter after fleeing Israeli attacks elsewhere. The potential operation has sparked grave warnings from the international community over fears of catastrophic civilian casualties.

In a stern statement on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Israel against launching a major assault on Rafah without a clear plan to protect civilians. “Absent such a plan, we can’t support a major military operation going into Rafah because the damage it would do is beyond what’s acceptable,” Blinken told the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona.

Despite the chorus of international concern, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to send troops into Rafah to uproot Hamas fighters, the militant group that governs Gaza. With both sides digging in, a Hamas delegation has arrived in Egypt for what appears to be make-or-break ceasefire negotiations.

According to reports, Israel has given Hamas one week to agree to a ceasefire and deal involving the exchange of prisoners and captives held by both sides. If Hamas refuses, Israel has threatened to unleash its ground invasion of the crowded Rafah area.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urgently pressed Israel and Hamas to reach a truce “for the sake of the people of Gaza, the hostages and their families, and the region and the wider world.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has also warned that hundreds of thousands would be at “imminent risk of death” if the Rafah invasion goes ahead.

The current escalation traces back to October 7th when Hamas launched rocket attacks into Israel, prompting a devastating Israeli military response in Gaza. In the over seven months since, at least 34,622 Palestinians have been killed and 77,867 wounded according to Palestinian officials. Israel has reported 1,139 deaths from the Hamas attacks, with dozens still being held captive.

As the deadline approaches, tensions are reaching a fever pitch. Hamas has signalled it is “determined to achieve an agreement” but has given no indication it will fully acquiesce to Israel’s demands regarding captives. Israel has made clear it will not hesitate to use overwhelming force in Rafah if Hamas refuses to stand down.

Entrapped civilians in Rafah find themselves in the crosshairs yet again as the bitter enemies show no sign of backing down from their hardline positions. With both sides doubling down, the threat of major military escalation and mass civilian suffering looms larger than ever in Gaza.