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SYDNEY: The leaders of Canada, Australia and New Zealand on Thursday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, according to a joint statement released in response to reports about Israel’s planned military operation in Rafah.

“We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic,” the statement by the prime ministers of the three countries said.

“An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed.” Israel will press ahead with an offensive against Hamas in Rafah, the last refuge for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza, after allowing civilians to vacate the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.

The statement urged Israel not to conduct the offensive, however it said any ceasefire could not be “one sided,” and would require Hamas to disarm and immediately release all remaining hostages.

The leaders also said the International Court of Justice’s January ruling in a genocide case brought by South Africa obligated Israel to protect civilians and deliver basic services and essential humanitarian assistance.

“The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law,” the statement said. “Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.

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