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The Rising Crisis: US, Israel, and Hamas Clash over the Future of Gaza Strip

The escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip have garnered global attention, with US President Joe Biden warning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against a military operation in Rafah without a civilian protection plan. This cautionary note comes as Israel strategizes to neutralize Hamas, a Palestinian organization labeled as a terrorist group by several Western countries.

The Gaza Strip, a Mediterranean coastal land strip spanning 25 miles, has been a conflict hotspot for many years. It is home to almost two million Palestinians, a significant number of whom are refugees from other areas. Rafah, a city in the southern part of the Strip, is currently at the heart of the conflict, with over 1.3 million inhabitants.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who is planning her fifth visit to the region since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, has joined a chorus of international voices warning of a potential humanitarian disaster if a military operation proceeds in Rafah. In a related development, the US Central Command has conducted strikes on unmanned vessels and anti-ship cruise missiles north of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah, adding another dimension to the already complex situation.

The Israeli military is preparing for a ground assault on Rafah to dismantle four alleged Hamas battalions. This strategy, however, has been criticized by Western officials who warn of a humanitarian crisis for the city's residents. Despite these apprehensions, Netanyahu maintains that refraining from attacking Rafah equates to Israel conceding defeat.

The ongoing conflict has claimed 28,176 lives in Gaza and injured 67,784 Palestinians over a span of four months. Amid these grim statistics, Netanyahu has pledged to ensure "safe passage for the civilian population" in the lead-up to the anticipated assault on Rafah. However, this promise has done little to alleviate fears of a large-scale humanitarian crisis, as indicated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Adding to the tension, the Israeli military alleges the discovery of a Hamas tunnel beneath the UN agency for Palestinian refugees' headquarters in Gaza City. This claim is accompanied by accusations of agency staff involvement in the deadly October 7 attacks, leading to the dismissal of 12 staff members and an ongoing investigation.

Rafah's strategic location, bordering Egypt to the south, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office has argued that it is impossible to neutralize Hamas while leaving four battalions in Rafah, rendering the situation a precarious balancing act.

The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced the proposed military escalation, labeling the potential evacuation a “dangerous prelude” to further displacement of Palestinians. Satellite images reveal a rapidly expanding tent city in Rafah as Gazans seek refuge from the Israeli Defense Forces’ campaign.

The US State Department has reiterated Biden's concerns, asserting that it would not support an Israeli military operation in Rafah without comprehensive planning. This sentiment is shared by UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric and the Norwegian Refugee Council, both of whom have expressed grave concern for Rafah's civilian population.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages, warning of an "age of chaos" due to divisions within the UN Security Council. As the world watches anxiously, the future of Rafah and its residents remains uncertain, underscoring the devastating human toll of geopolitical conflict.