In the early hours of Saturday, deadly strikes struck the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, described by the UN as a “pressure cooker of despair,” ahead of renewed efforts by international mediators to secure a potential truce between Israel and Hamas. The ongoing conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians to seek refuge in Rafah, swelling its population to more than half of Gaza’s two million-plus inhabitants.
The United Nations’ OCHA expressed deep concern about the escalating hostilities in nearby Khan Yunis, resulting in a significant influx of people to Rafah. Many are now living in makeshift structures, tents, or out in the open, facing dire conditions described by OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke as a “pressure cooker of despair.”
Reports from Rafah revealed powerful explosions shortly after midnight on Saturday, with the Hamas-run health ministry later confirming 14 casualties in two strikes. The overnight toll across the territory exceeded 100 people.
Abdulkarim Misbah, one of the displaced seeking refuge in Rafah, shared the challenges faced, including inadequate shelter and harsh weather conditions. Winter storms and torrential rain, coupled with a dire shortage of essentials, further worsened the plight of those affected.
The conflict’s toll on Gaza is profound, with an estimated 17,000 children left unaccompanied or separated from their parents, according to UNICEF. The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory reported over 27,000 casualties, mostly women and children, while a UN satellite analysis revealed that around 30% of Gaza’s structures had been affected by the war.
Amid the humanitarian crisis, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) deplored the deaths of three Palestinian Red Crescent workers near Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis, emphasizing that any attack on healthcare workers is unacceptable.
Diplomatically, there is a renewed push for a truce, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to travel to the Middle East for the fifth time since the conflict began. A proposed deal involving the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting is under consideration, with hopes of progress in the coming weeks.
The conflict has not only intensified within Gaza but has also triggered wider regional repercussions. In response to a drone attack in Jordan, the US military launched air strikes against Iranian forces and Tehran-backed fighters in Iraq and Syria. The war has also prompted increased attacks by Iran-backed groups in support of the Palestinians.
As diplomatic efforts continue, the situation in Rafah and the broader Gaza region remains critical, with the international community working to address the humanitarian crisis and broker a lasting truce.