World leaders fail to act as Israeli invasion of Rafah worsens humanitarian catastrophe

May 15, 2024 – Third States have the responsibility to urgently act in bringing to an end, and pursue accountability for, the grave breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) taking place in Gaza.

Despite repeated calls on Israel from heads of state, UN officials and humanitarian NGOs to refrain from expanding its ground offensive to Rafah, Israeli troops entered the governorate on May 7, 2024. Over 1.5 million people, including 600,000 children, are at serious risk; more than 450,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since Israel first issued unlawful “evacuation orders” there on May 6.

While the Israeli army has already taken control of urban areas inside Rafah, the issuance of new “evacuation orders” on May 11 is setting the stage for further advancement of the military invasion, which will lead to the total collapse of lifesaving services. The Israeli military offensive has interrupted the access of aid to Gaza through Rafah and Kerem Shalom / Karm Abu Salem crossings.

Third States have a responsibility to act

Third States have the responsibility to urgently act in bringing to an end, and pursue accountability for, the Grave Breaches of IHL taking place in Gaza. The first step for Third States in upholding their own legal obligations to ensure IHL is respected is to stop the Rafah invasion, open all land crossings and lift internal barriers for humanitarian access. As the main weapons provider for Israel’s military effort, the United States bears a significant responsibility for Israel’s IHL violations. In addition to halting the transfer of high payload bombs, the US should also use all its leverage to halt the ongoing military operation in Rafah. In fact, all suppliers of arms have to respect the Human Rights Council resolution voted on April 5 calling on them to cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel. All states must act now to ensure an immediate and sustained ceasefire.

Evacuation orders are unlawful

The Israeli military’s “evacuation orders” are unlawful and amount to forcible transfer, a grave violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Israel has ordered hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee, without providing civilians and humanitarian actors clear information nor timeframe.

IHL sets clear conditions for an evacuation to be lawful: the occupying power must ensure that these displacements are temporary and that displaced persons are provided with satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and members of the same family must not be separated. Israeli authorities have failed to meet any of these requirements.

Already burdened by multiple displacements, people in Rafah are yet again being ordered to flee amidst destroyed infrastructure and streets contaminated by unexploded ordnances.

Displaced individuals are seeking refuge in the Middle Area, Khan Younis and Al Mawasi, despite high levels of destruction, and lack all necessities to sustain life. The concept of “humanitarian safe zones” is void as areas previously designated as such have been targeted by bombing and ground operations.

While the relentless bombardment persists in Rafah, airstrikes and ground assaults are escalating in the North, leading to additional forcible displacement in the enclave.

Humanitarian response disrupted

The Israeli military ground invasion of Rafah is disrupting the humanitarian response, in breach of the UN Security Council resolutions 2720 and 2728 as well as the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures ordering Israel to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance. 

As a result of Israel’s military activity in the northern governorates in previous months, humanitarian actors have been forced to relocate a significant portion of aid capacities in Rafah, including premises and warehouses.

The Israeli offensive is now already forcing part of humanitarian staff and operations to close or to relocate again to other areas under extremely dangerous circumstances. Warehouses containing direly needed lifesaving aid in eastern Rafah remain inaccessible due to the presence of Israeli forces. Medical facilities in Rafah are shutting down one after another.

Every hour during which Israeli forces occupy the crossings of Rafah and Kerem Shalom / Karm Abu Salem condemns more Palestinians to starvation and denial of medical care. Israeli forces are completely preventing humanitarian aid and staff from using the Rafah crossing.

The heavy militarization around the Kerem Shalom / Karm Abu Salem crossing resulting from the Israeli ground invasion does not provide the conditions for sustained movement of humanitarian convoys.

These two crossings constitute the main critical lifeline for entry of aid into the enclave, and their closures are plunging Gaza into an even larger humanitarian disaster.

While the state of famine has been confirmed by the World Food Programme in northern Gaza and the health system sinks deeper into collapse, stocks of critical aid provisions, including food, water, fuel and medical supplies are rapidly depleting. This has already resulted in the closure of services essential to civilians’ survival. The extremely limited reopening of the northern crossings or the prospect of a maritime route cannot be used as a rationale to justify diminishing access through southern land crossings.

The depletion of fuel poses a grave risk of halting humanitarian operations and basic services. The functioning of the whole humanitarian response depends on fuel, including to address priority needs of more than 1.7 million displaced persons. Urgently prioritizing the immediate entry of fuel is crucial to sustain what remains of Gaza’s devastated health system and humanitarian response.


  • ActionAid
  • Action Against Hunger
  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
  • Amnesty International
  • A.M. Qattan Foundation
  • Anera
  • Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
  • DanChurch Aid (DCA)
  • Humanity & Inclusion/ Handicap International (HI)
  • IM Swedish Development Partner
  • Médecins du Monde International Network
  • Mennonite Central Committee
  • Mercy Corps
  • Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)
  • Norwegian People’s Aid
  • Oxfam
  • Plan International
  • Relief International
  • War Child Alliance

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