Israel has been warned of repercussions if its military launches a ground invasion in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, while Israel has suggested civilians could evacuate and find refuge in tent camps which are not yet built.
The warning came after Israeli air strikes killed at least 44 Palestinians, including more than a dozen children, in the city.
Lord David Cameron has said he is “deeply concerned” about the planned ground invasion of the city, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are taking refuge.
Israel says it is a hive of Hamas’s remaining strongholds.
“Deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah – over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area,” the foreign secretary wrote on X.
“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, then progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.”
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have “disastrous consequences” and asserted Israel aims to eventually force Palestinians out of their land. Egypt has warned any movement of Palestinians into its territory would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between it and Egypt.
Qatar also warned of disaster while Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions”.
Their remarks came after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled there would be an imminent invasion of Rafah, saying he had asked the military to prepare for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people there.
An Israeli government spokesperson suggested civilians could find refuge in tent camps which are yet to be built, and said the international community was “more than welcome” to send shelter equipment.
Eylon Levy told Sky News: “We want civilians to get out of harm’s way. We don’t want to come in all guns blazing because we understand how catastrophic that would be.”
Asked where the more than one million civilians in Rafah should go, Mr Levy said: “That is part of the plan that the Israeli army will have to present [to] the prime minister because we take our obligations under international law to keep civilians protected very seriously.
“There are open spaces in Gaza, there are places where it is possible to set up tent encampments so that civilians can get out of harm’s way and not allow Hamas to use them as human shields.”
Netanyahu announcement causes panic
Mr Netanyahu did not say when the attack would begin, but his announcement triggered panic in the region.
Israel has carried out almost daily airstrikes on the city, which borders Egypt, even after the military told civilians to seek shelter there from current ground combat in Khan Younis to the north.
Around 80% of Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced and the territory is suffering a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food and medical services.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, and more than 67,000 people wounded.
Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas militants assaulted southern Israel on 7 October, killing 1,300 and taking 250 hostage. Not all the hostages have survived.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths because it fights from within civilian areas, but US President Joe Biden said earlier this week that Israel’s response is “over the top”.