Rafah a ‘pressure cooker of despair’
The UN voiced fears Friday about worsening conditions in southern Gaza, saying a surge in people seeking safety in Rafah had made the town a "pressure cooker of despair".
The United Nations' humanitarian agency OCHA said it was deeply concerned about the escalation of hostilities in Khan Yunis, which had resulted in increased numbers heading further south to Rafah in recent days.
"Most are living in makeshift structures, tents or out in the open," OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told a briefing in Geneva. "Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next.
"Khan Yunis has also come increasingly under attack, and it's been shocking to hear about the heavy fighting in the vicinity of the hospitals, jeopardising the safety of medical staff, the wounded and the sick, as well as thousands of internally displaced people seeking refuge there."
Of the people rushing southwards, Laerke said: "Are they truly safe? No. There's no safe place in Gaza; also not in Rafah. "Every week we think it can't get any worse. Well, go figure: it gets worse."
Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization's representative for the occupied Palestinian territories, said Rafah used to be a town of around 200,000 people but the area was now sheltering more than half of Gaza's two million-plus population.
"When you hear about potential attacks, it should not happen... Rafah should not be attacked," he said, via video-link from
The UN's top court on January 26 said Israel must facilitate "urgently needed" humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Laerke said that over recent weeks, "I do not detect any improvement whatsoever in the humanitarian situation, anywhere in the Gaza Strip."
Peeperkorn said that the WHO planned 15 missions to northern Gaza in January, of which three were facilitated, while four of 11 planned missions to the south were facilitated. He called for humanitarian corridors.
He said the WHO was extremely concerned about malnutrition in Gaza and the threat of famine.