Middle East crisis live: UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

The city, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:

We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said there is nowhere else for them to go.

Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, he said:

We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.

It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.

They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.

So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.

But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.

We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.

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Key events

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have warned that Israel’s war in Gaza and the related attacks on shipping through the Red Sea pose threats to the global economy, AFP reports.

The four-month-old war has hit the Middle East and north Africa region’s economy, said the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said.

“I fear most a longevity of the conflict because, if it goes on and on, the risk of spillover goes up,” Georgieva told the World Government Summit, an annual gathering of business and political leaders in Dubai.

“Right now we see a risk of spillover in the Suez Canal,” she said, as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attacked Red Sea shipping leading to the crucial maritime passage.

Giving more details about the hostage rescue in Rafah, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were found “deep inside Rafah … held in harsh conditions”.

“They were intentionally held in the middle of a civilian neighbourhood, inside a civilian building, to try and prevent us from rescuing them. But we did,” BBC News quoted him as saying.

Geneva Abdul

A woman evacuated from Gaza to the UK is desperate to help her family exit the territory amid warnings of an Israeli military ground offensive in Rafah which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Islam Alashi, 38, found herself amid the war after travelling to Gaza from Liverpool to visit her father in September. After nearly 60 days under Israeli bombardment, Alashi was able to evacuate and return to her family in the UK in December, where she has since started a fundraising campaign to evacuate her father, sister and niece as they shelter with more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population in Rafah.

“My mind is still there, to be honest, I just came to be beside my kids and my husband,” said Alashi, who has not been able to return to work or her routine before the war. “Nothing changed for me because yes I saved myself, but I can’t save the rest of my family.”

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Following reports of airstrikes in Rafah last night, Alashi, who last spoke with her sister two days ago, said she is “terrified” for her family sheltering in a tent near the border, which cost them $1,000. The only option to evacuate her family now, said Alashi, is paying for them to cross into Egypt.

“If we pay $5,000 for each one of the adults and $2,500 for the baby they can be evacuated the next week,” said Alashi. The Guardian previously reported on bribes being paid up to $10,000 (£7,850) to help Palestinians leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

When her name appeared on the list of evacuees at the Rafah border crossing in December, Alashi took her father, who is Palestinian, and sister, who holds a Yemeni passport, and niece as well, hoping they’d be able to cross with her. Her family was returned to Rafah, recalled Alashi, who was too upset to turn her head as she left.

“When I can connect with my sister she’s crying all the time, and I cry, she says ‘please save us, please do something for us’,” said Alashi. “But I can’t do anything to them because it’s about governments.”

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The Sanremo Italian song festival – Italy’s biggest showbiz event – has been criticised by Israel after a rapper competing in the contest’s final appealed to “stop genocide” during his appearance on stage.

Alon Bar, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, said the festival, which draws in millions of TV viewers and is used to pick the Italian candidate for the Eurovision song contest, had been exploited to “spread hatred and provocation in a superficial, irresponsible way” after the appeal by Ghali.

“In the 7 October massacre, among the 1,200 victims were over 360 young people slaughtered and raped during the Nova music festival,” Bar posted to social media. “Another 40 of them were kidnapped and are still in the hands of the terrorists. The Sanremo festival could have expressed solidarity with them. It is a shame this didn’t happen.”

You can read the full story by the Guardian’s Rome correspondent, Angela Giuffrida, here:

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UK government ‘deeply concerned’ about planned offensive in Rafah

The official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

The city, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:

We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah, which was hit by heavy airstrikes overnight.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said there is nowhere else for them to go.

Speaking to reporters in East Kilbride, Scotland, he said:

We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.

It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war among these people, there is nowhere for them to go.

They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.

So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.

But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.

We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.

Updated at 

Israel says Hamas forces halved with more than 12,000 gunmen killed

An Israeli government spokesperson said that Hamas had been reduced to half its fighting force, Reuters reported.

“We’re talking about three-quarters of Hamas’ battalions that have been shattered … with over 12,000 terrorists who have been killed,” spokesperson Eylon Levy said.

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UK sanctions extremist settlers in the West Bank

The United Kingdom has announced new sanctions on “four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the Foreign Office said.

The foreign secretary, David Cameron, said in a statement:

Today’s sanctions place restrictions on those involved in some of the most egregious abuses of human rights. We should be clear about what is happening here. Extremist Israeli settlers are threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs. This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable.

Israel must also take stronger action and put a stop to settler violence. Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through.

Extremist settlers, by targeting and attacking Palestinian civilians, are undermining security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Francesca Albanese, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government has announced.

#BREAKING: UN’s @franceskalbs, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories, will not be allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories after recent comment – Israel’s foreign minister @Israel_katz and interior minister Moshe Arbel announce

— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) February 12, 2024

Discussions will take place today in Israel on the question of whether to send a delegation to Cairo tomorrow, the Israeli public broadcaster reports.

American officials see talks in Egypt as an “important event”, and Israeli officials say that this boosts chances that Israel will participate, according to the broadcaster.

בישראל יקיימו היום דיונים בנוגע לשליחת משלחת לפסגת קהיר שתתקיים מחר. גורמים בישראל הבהירו בימים האחרונים כי התשובה תלויה בשינוי עמדת חמאס, אולם בשל העובדה שהממשל האמריקני רואה בפסגה “אירוע חשוב”, גורמים ישראלים אומרים כי זה מעלה את הסיכוי שישראל תשתתף בו@AmichaiStein1

— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 12, 2024

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, is in the region today.

Rutte, who is considered a frontrunner to become the next Nato secretary-general, said he has three priorities: the need for more humanitarian aid, the release of hostages and a reduction in the intensity of Israeli operations.

Vandaag ben ik in Israël en de Palestijnse gebieden. Hier voer ik gesprekken met @IsraeliPM Netanyahu en met de Palestijnse minister-president @DrShtayyeh. Drie dingen hebben nu de grootste prioriteit: er is massief meer humanitaire hulp nodig in Gaza, Hamas moet de meer dan 100…

— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) February 12, 2024

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