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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Urgent call for ceasefire and release of hostages

12 May 2024

DEIR AL BALAH, GAZA - MAY 08: Thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, migrated from the neighborhoods in the east of Rafah and reaches the coastal side of the city of Deir al-Balah after the Israeli army took control of the Rafah border crossing on the Gazan side in Deir al Balah, Gaza on May 08, 2024. © ASHRAF AMRAANADOLUAnadolu via AFP

I am deeply distressed by the fast-deteriorating conditions in Gaza as Israeli forces intensify airstrikes on Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza and in parts of Central Gaza. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are fleeing Rafah after the Israeli Defence Forces ordered further evacuations from the southern city, leading afresh to massive displacement of an already profoundly traumatized population. I am also concerned by reports of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. 

Since 6 May, when the IDF issued an evacuation order to Palestinians in eastern Rafah, more than 278,000 people have been displaced. This includes people with disabilities, the chronically ill, older people, the injured, pregnant women, and many others who are physically unable to move without help.

The latest evacuation orders affect close to a million people in Rafah. So where should they go now? 

There is no safe place in Gaza!

These exhausted, famished people, many of whom have been displaced many times already, have no good options. Other towns across Gaza, including Khan Younis, which is supposed to receive those who are being displaced from Rafah right now, have already been reduced to rubble, and remain under attack. These are not safe places.

I have repeatedly expressed my alarm about the catastrophic impact of a possible full-scale offensive on Rafah, including the possibility of further atrocity crimes.I can see no way that the latest evacuation orders, much less a full assault, in an area with an extremely dense presence of civilians, can be reconciled with the binding requirements of international humanitarian law and with the two sets of binding provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice.

At this desperate moment, exacerbated by acts impeding the entry of humanitarian aid in Gaza through the three crossings, there is a dire shortage of fuel, which is hindering everything – from the movement to distribution of food, operation of hospitals and emergency services, sewage treatment and telecommunications. I am also very worried about the safety of humanitarian workers in the affected areas.

I reiterate. A full-scale offensive on Rafah cannot take place!

All States with influence must do everything in their power to prevent it - to protect civilian lives.

I call on Israel and Palestinian armed groups urgently to agree to a ceasefire, and all hostages must be released at once.