On Friday, UNICEF warned against any escalation in Rafah, where, it said, more than 600,000 children and their families had been displaced.
“Thousands more could die in the violence or by lack of essential services, and further disruption of humanitarian assistance,” the agency’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said in a statement. “We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional. Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.”
The Palestinian Authority, which partly governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the expected Israeli advance was “a dangerous prelude to implementing Israel’s unacceptable policy that aims to expel the Palestinian people from their land.” It appealed to Israel’s allies to stop the military from moving into Rafah.
Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, said that unless civilians were properly evacuated a ground operation in Rafah could lead to high casualty counts and “enormous pressure on the border with Egypt” by Gazans fleeing the incursion. The international community could significantly raise pressure for a cease-fire.
“We might reach the opposite of the intended result: You want to deal a final blow against Hamas in Rafah — but at a certain point, the world will tell you ‘no,’ and we end up on the losing end in every direction,” Mr. Eiland said in an interview.
The concerns came as Israeli troops pressed deeper into Khan Younis, a city less than 10 miles from Rafah, where they raided a hospital complex on Friday and were searching inside the main building, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
The Israeli military said that its intelligence had indicated Hamas was operating inside the hospital, Al-Amal, and that “a precise sweep and clear operation to locate terrorists and dismantle terrorist infrastructure in the vicinity has commenced.”
“The military personnel involved have been thoroughly instructed to prioritize the safety of civilians, patients, medical workers and medical facilities during the operation,” the military said.