Israel's capture, closure of Rafah border crossing raises humanitarian alarm 

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The United Nations and aid groups are raising urgent alarm for Israel to reopen Gaza’s border crossings and deescalate military operations in the southern city of Rafah to address a humanitarian catastrophe for more than one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued desperate pleas for Israel to back off its attacks against Hamas in Rafah and move to open key gateways, Rafah and Kerem Shalom, for humanitarian aid deliveries. 

“The closure of both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings is especially damaging to an already dire humanitarian situation. They must be re-opened immediately,” he said. 

“Rafah is the epicenter of humanitarian operations in Gaza. Attacking Rafah will further upend our efforts to support people in dire humanitarian straits as famine looms.”

Israel on Monday night began what it called specific attacks against Hamas targets in eastern Rafah and seized the border crossing with Egypt, a main artery for humanitarian aid deliveries and any movement of Palestinians to and from Gaza. 

Guterres, in his plea, called for Israel’s international partners to exert pressure on Jerusalem to rein in its military operations. 

“I appeal to all those with influence over Israel to do everything in their power to help avert even more tragedy.”

Several aid groups joined in on the calls warning against Israel’s military operations targeting Rafah, pointing to a likely high toll of civilian deaths and coming on top of declarations that famine is present in the strip. 

“We had already run out of words to describe how catastrophic the situation is in Rafah — but this next chapter will take it to indescribable new levels,” Save The Children said in a statement. 

John Kirby, the White House spokesperson on National Security issues, said the administration is closely watching the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) attacks on Gaza, saying that Jerusalem has described it as “aimed at cutting off Hamas’s ability to ship arms across the Rafah border.” 

“How they’ve described it is as not of the size, scale, duration, and scope that one could equate to a major ground operation.” 

Kirby said the White House remains opposed to a broader, IDF-ground offensive into Rafah that doesn’t prioritize protection of civilians. 

“We don’t want to see any operation conducted in Rafah that doesn’t properly account for the safety and security of the people that are there, big or small, far or wide. And we’re going to be watching this one very, very closely.”

Kirby said that at President Biden’s request, Israel had committed to reopening the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel that was shut down following a Hamas rocket attack that killed four Israeli soldiers, and wounded 10 others on Sunday. 

The administration is also pushing for Israel to re-open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian deliveries. 

“There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done,” Kirby said. “I would not say that everything has been sufficient to date. Clearly, there’s still great humanitarian need and great risk for the people that are trying to get that assistance to those in need.”

The administration has said that targets for humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza aim to reach about 500 trucks per day. An average of 240 trucks traveled through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings each day, over the first five days of May, according to data from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. 

Israel said that multiple crossings allow for about 350 aid trucks to enter Gaza daily. 

The IDF did not have comment on any plans to reopen the Rafah crossing when reached for comment by The Hill. 

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