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This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on May 06, 2024. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Humanitarian organizations and United Nations officials are warning that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children—nearly all of whom are sick, injured, or malnourished—are in grave danger as Israeli forces on Monday moved to forcibly evacuate the overcrowded Gaza city of Rafah ahead of an expected ground invasion.

An estimated 600,000 children are believed to be sheltering in Rafah in terrible conditions and under the near-constant threat of Israeli airstrikes, which rocked the city and killed dozens of people—including at least eight kids—hours before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued its evacuation directives.

“They’re being told to move, quote unquote, to a ‘humanitarian zone.’ That’s a unilaterally declared humanitarian zone,” James Elder, a spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a BBC appearance Monday. “That’s not a humanitarian zone where humanitarians have been able to provide the services they need to. I’ve been talking to colleagues and friends in Rafah this morning, and they’re terrified.”

“Nowhere is safe,” said Elder. “But as unbearable as this is, it’s happening and it’s going to be horrific.”

Threatening “extreme force” in the area, the Israeli military on Monday ordered roughly 100,000 people in the eastern part of Rafah to move west to Al-Mawasi, a town on Gaza’s southern coast. Humanitarian groups said Al-Mawasi doesn’t have anywhere near sufficient infrastructure to house displaced people from Rafah and stressed that nowhere in Gaza is safe as long as Israel continues its bombing campaign.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said in response to the IDF’s directives that “for weeks we have been warning there is no feasible evacuation plan to lawfully displace and protect civilians.”

“For weeks, we have been warning of the devastating consequences this will have for children and our ability to assist them in an already straight-jacketed response. For weeks, we have been calling for preventive action,” Ashing continued. “Instead, the international community has looked away. They cannot look away now.”

“The announced incursion will not only risk the lives of over 600,000 children but will at best disrupt and at worst cause the collapse of the humanitarian aid response currently struggling to keep Gaza’s population alive,” she added. “Forcibly displacing people from Rafah while further disrupting the aid response will likely seal the fate of many children. We had already run out of words to describe how catastrophic the situation is in Rafah—but this next chapter will take it to indescribable new levels.”

“History will judge all of those who are complicit in what is being done to Palestinians in Gaza. It must end now.”

Roughly 1.4 million people, many of them already displaced multiple times since October, are currently sheltering in Rafah, which Israel’s military has been threatening to invade for months amid faltering cease-fire talks with Hamas.

Reuters reported that in the wake of the IDF’s evacuation order, “some loaded children and possessions onto donkey carts, some packed into cars, others simply walked” in the hopes of escaping Israel’s ground assault.

“People have nowhere to go, no area is safe. All that remains in Gaza is death,” Mohammed Al-Najjar, a 23-year-old man with family in Rafah, told the news agency. “I wish I could erase these last seven months from my memory. So many of our dreams and hopes have faded.”

According to UNICEF, around 65,000 children in Rafah have a preexisting disability—including seeing, hearing, and walking difficulties—and nearly 80,000 are infants. Roughly 8,000 children under the age of two in Rafah are acutely malnourished.

“The ‘evacuation’ of Rafah is illegal,” said Heidi Matthews, an assistant professor of law at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. “There are no ‘humanitarian’ or ‘safe zones.’ Civilians are being forcibly displaced to areas totally unsuitable to human habitation. This is a crime against humanity.”

The Biden administration, which has supported Israel’s war on Gaza from the start, has expressed opposition to a Rafah ground invasion absent a credible plan to keep civilians out of harm’s way. On Monday, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said that “we continue to believe that a hostage deal is the best way to preserve the lives of the hostages, and avoid an invasion of Rafah, where more than a million people are sheltering.”

The spokesperson said U.S. President Joe Biden plans to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at some unspecified point on Monday.

Mike Merryman-Lotze, just peace global policy director at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), said in a statement Monday that “the Biden administration has spoken against the invasion of Rafah but continues to send billions of dollars in weapons to Israel for its genocidal campaign.”

“Any invasion will only bring countless more deaths and exacerbate the risk of famine that is already high because Israel continues to block most humanitarian aid from entering Gaza. President Biden and all elected officials must act now to stop this invasion, demand a permanent and complete cease-fire, and end all arms transfers to Israel.”

CNN reported Sunday that the Biden administration decided to pause a shipment of U.S.-made ammunition to Israel, but an unnamed official told the outlet that the hold was “not connected to a potential Israeli operation in Rafah and doesn’t affect other shipments moving forward.”

Medical Aid for Palestinians, an advocacy group based in the United Kingdom, said Monday that “the international community knows that this invasion will be a catastrophe.”

“The killing of civilians will accelerate and much more of Gaza’s remaining infrastructure will be destroyed,” the group said. “History will judge all of those who are complicit in what is being done to Palestinians in Gaza. It must end now.”

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