EU urges Israel to end Rafah military operation 'immediately'

The European Union on Wednesday urged Israel to end its military operation in Gaza's Rafah "immediately", warning that failure to do so would undermine ties with the bloc.

"Should Israel continue its military operation in Rafah, it would inevitably put a heavy strain on the EU's relationship with Israel," said the statement issued in the EU's name by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

"The European Union urges Israel to end its military operation in Rafah immediately," the statement said, warning it was "further disrupting the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza and is leading to more internal displacement, exposure to famine and human suffering."

The bloc — the main aid donor for the Palestinian territories and Israel's biggest trading partner — said more than a million people in and around Rafah had been ordered by Israel to flee the area to other zones the U.N. says cannot be considered safe.

"While the EU recognises Israel's right to defend itself, Israel must do so in line with International Humanitarian Law and provide safety to civilians," it said.

The law requires Israel to allow in humanitarian aid, the statement stressed.

The EU also condemned a Hamas attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing which blocked humanitarian relief supplies.

"We call on all parties to redouble their efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas," it said.

Israel's military operations in Gaza were launched in retaliation for Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israeli which killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, and saw around 250 hostages taken, according to Israeli official figures.

Israel's military has conducted a relentless bombardment from the air and a ground offensive inside Gaza that has killed more than 35,000, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Israel's main allies, the United States and the EU, as well as the United Nations, have all warned Israel against a major operation in Rafah given that it would add to the civilian toll.

Palestinians mark 'Nakba' anniversary 

Tens of thousands of civilians fled the southern Gaza city of Rafah ahead of a threatened Israeli ground offensive, as Palestinians on Wednesday mark the anniversary of their "Nakba" or "catastrophe" of 1948.

During the war that accompanied Israel's creation, around 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes and many took refuge in what would later become the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Wednesday's commemoration of the "Nakba" comes as multiple battles between Israeli troops and Hamas across the Gaza Strip force waves of Palestinian mass displacement.

Nearly 450,000 Palestinians have been displaced from Rafah since May 6, and around 100,000 from northern Gaza, U.N. agencies said.

That means around a quarter of Gaza's population of 2.4 million people have been displaced again in about one week.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres repeated his call for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow more aid into the besieged territory.

"I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and for the release of all hostages. I call for the Rafah crossing to be re-opened immediately and for the unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Gaza," he posted Tuesday on social media site X.

The war and siege have triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with the U.N. repeatedly lamenting aid restrictions as famine stalks the north.

Since Israeli troops moved into eastern Rafah, the aid crossing point from Egypt has remained closed and the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing lacks "safe and logistically viable access", a U.N. report said late Monday.

Qatar, which has been mediating peace talks, said Gazans "have not received any aid" since May 9.

Attack on aid convoy 

Israeli police on Tuesday said they had opened an investigation after right-wing activists stopped and ransacked at least seven Gaza-bound aid trucks coming from Jordan, leaving food spilt on the road.

One of the activists, Hana Giat, said that with hostages still held by Hamas militants, "no humanitarian aid should go in before our hostages are out, safe in their homes".

Both the United States, which called it "a total outrage", and Britain, said they would raise concerns about the incident with Israel's government.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on Israeli authorities to stop the attacks and hold those responsible to account.

"I'm outraged by the repeated & still unchecked attacks perpetrated by Israeli extremists on aid convoys on their way to Gaza, including from Jordan. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are starving," Borrell posted on X late Tuesday.

Clashes have rocked densely crowded Rafah but also flared again in northern and central Gaza months after troops and tanks first entered those areas.

At least five people were killed, including a woman and her child, and several others wounded, in two Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on Tuesday night, according to Gaza's civil defence agency.

Israel last week defied a chorus of warnings — including from top ally Washington which paused a shipment of bombs — and sent troops and tanks into the east of Rafah to pursue militants.

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