An Israeli offensive against Rafah, a town in the south of the Gaza Strip where more than a million Palestinians displaced by the war are crowded together, would cause damage “beyond acceptable,” the secretary warned on Saturday, May 4. of American State, Antony Blinken.

According to Mr. Blinken, Israel has not presented any plan to protect civilians during this possible attack. “Absent such a plan, we cannot support a major military operation in Rafah,” Blinken said at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona.

For his part, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on X that his institution was “deeply concerned that a large-scale military operation in Rafah, Gaza, could lead to a bloodbath and further weaken a health system already on its knees.”

For now, the Israeli army continues to bomb the city, where the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to launch a ground offensive to “annihilate” according to him the last Hamas brigades. The Europeans, the UN and the United States, Israel’s main ally, have all forcefully asked Mr. Netanyahu to abandon a ground offensive on the city.

In addition to the cost in human lives, an offensive would be “a major blow to humanitarian operations throughout the Gaza Strip”, because Rafah “is at the heart of humanitarian operations”, the spokesperson for the Gaza Strip’s office warned on Friday. UN Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, in Geneva. It would also weaken “an already broken health system”, of which only twelve of the thirty-six hospitals in Gaza are still functioning, the WHO added in a press release.

A “broken health system”, according to the WHO

“WHO and partners are working urgently to restore and revive health services (…) but the broken health system could not cope with the increase in injuries and deaths that an incursion into Rafah would cause” , according to the press release dated Friday.

In Rafah, the three hospitals, still partially operational, “will become dangerous for patients, staff, paramedics and aid workers when hostilities intensify in their vicinity and, therefore, will quickly become non-functional”, warns the WHO.

Also “vulnerable”, the European hospital in Gaza, east of Khan Younes, “could become isolated and inaccessible” during a possible offensive in Rafah, leaving in the south of the Gaza Strip “only six hospitals campaign “.

“To ease the burden on hospitals” in the event of an Israeli operation in the South, the WHO says it is working to establish new health centers in the center and north of the Gaza Strip, as well as a new field hospital in Rafah. It also transferred a “significant volume” of medical supplies stored in Rafah to a new warehouse further north because they “may become inaccessible during the incursion.”

But “despite contingency plans and efforts, WHO warns that substantial additional mortality and morbidity are expected when the military incursion takes place,” calling “for respect for the sanctity of care” and to “remove obstacles to the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance to and across Gaza.”

Hamas negotiators expected in Cairo on Saturday

While talks continue in Cairo for a possible ceasefire, Mr. Blinken also affirmed Friday that Hamas remained the “only obstacle between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire.” “We’re waiting to see if, really, they can agree to say yes to the ceasefire and the release of the hostages,” Mr. Blinken said.

In a statement released late Friday, the Palestinian Islamist movement said it was in a “positive spirit.” “In light of recent contacts with brother mediators in Egypt and Qatar, the Hamas delegation will travel to Cairo on Saturday to complete discussions,” he announced on Friday.

In power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, Hamas is however “determined” to obtain “a total cessation of Israeli aggression”, the “withdrawal” of Israeli forces and “a serious arrangement for the exchange” of hostages Israelis against Palestinian prisoners.

A senior official of the Islamist movement confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the delegation will arrive in Cairo on Saturday morning and will be led by Khalil Al-Hayya, number two in the movement’s political branch in the Gaza Strip.

And according to the Axios website, the head of the CIA, William Burns, already arrived in the Egyptian capital on Friday evening, a sign that the time for key decisions has come after months of negotiations.

The mediators – Egypt, Qatar and the United States – have been waiting for almost a week for Hamas’ response to a new truce offer submitted at the end of April.