GENEVA: A full-scale Israeli assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah “cannot take place”, the UN human rights chief insisted Sunday, saying it could not be reconciled with international law.

All eyes have been on Rafah in recent weeks, where the population had swelled to around 1.5 million after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled fighting in other areas of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military on Saturday expanded an evacuation order for eastern Rafah and said 300,000 Palestinians had left the area.

“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!” Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

Israel strikes Gaza after fresh Rafah evacuation order

“These exhausted, famished people, many of whom have been displaced many times already, have no good options.

He said a full-scale offensive could have a “catastrophic impact… 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.”

Volker said he was deeply distressed by fast-deteriorating conditions in Gaza, saying the latest evacuation orders had triggered “massive displacement of an already profoundly traumatised population”.

He said the towns supposed to receive those displaced from Rafah had already been “reduced to rubble”.

Turk also voiced concern at reports of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza.

He said a full scale offensive on Rafah “cannot take place” and called on all states with influence to do everything in their power to prevent it.

He also called on Israel and Palestinian armed groups to agree a ceasefire, and for all hostages to be released immediately.

Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war began following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

During their attack, fighters also seized hostages. Israel estimates 128 captives remain in Gaza including 36 who the military says are dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has conducted a retaliatory offensive that has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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