Gaza ‘on brink of collapse’ without ceasefire

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Israel on Wednesday on her fifth trip since the Gaza war began and called on Israel to hold off on its ground offensive in the city of Rafah.

She also urged the government to agree to a ceasefire in view of the worsening humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Baerbock was received by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who thanked her for Germany’s continued support of Israel.

“We have focused on the need to return all hostages and defeat the terrorist organization Hamas,” Katz said.

The two also discussed ways to ensure that humanitarian aid does not fall into the hands of Hamas, his office said after the talks.

Katz also told Baerbock that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) “can no longer be part of the aid and that an alternative must be found.”

The talks in Jerusalem are also likely to have centred on the ground offensive announced by the Israeli army against Hamas in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Baerbock said ahead of time that she would once again discuss the humanitarian situation of the civilian population in Gaza and is calling for more aid deliveries.

On Wednesday afternoon, Baerbock also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid for separate talks. A meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog is planned for Thursday.

The possible ground offensive and the humanitarian situation in Gaza are also likely to play an important role in these talks, both of which have drawn sharp criticism from the international community.

The top German diplomat has called on the Israeli government to hold off on its ground offensive in the city of Rafah and agree to a ceasefire instead in view of the worsening humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in Gaza.

“In Rafah, 1.3 million people are living in a very confined space under the most terrible conditions,” the minister said on Wednesday before her arrival in Israel.

“Under these conditions, an offensive by the Israeli army on Rafah would completely jeopardize the humanitarian situation.”

The people in Rafah “cannot simply vanish into thin air,” she continued. They need safe places and safe corridors to avoid being caught in the crossfire even more, she said.

“They need more humanitarian aid. And they need a ceasefire,” the foreign minister said, adding: “Gaza is on the brink of collapse.”

Many of the people in Rafah had followed the Israeli evacuation orders and fled the combat zones in northern Gaza – “often with nothing more than their children in their arms and the clothes on their backs.”

The war began after the terrorist attacks in Israel led by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement and other extremist groups on October 7 killed over 1,200 people.

In massive airstrikes and a ground invasion that followed, Israel has killed 28,576 Palestinians in Gaza and injured 68,291, the ministry of health in Gaza reported on Wednesday.

According to UN figures, around 85% of Gazans have been internally displaced in the densely populated coastal strip since the start of the Israeli invasion.

During a visit to Berlin by the foreign minister of the Palestinian Territories, Riyad al-Maliki, she emphasized Israel’s right to self-defence against Hamas’ terrorism but also stressed that Israel had a duty to respect international humanitarian law.

Baerbock is expected to attend the Munich Security Conference on Friday. The Gaza war is expected to be one of the main topics there, alongside the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Office said that Baerbock’s talks in Israel will also focus on the political path towards a new humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

This should create a window of opportunity for the release of further hostages and negotiations on a sustainable ceasefire, he said.

Annalena Baerbock (3rd L), Germany's Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, meet for talks at the Prime Minister's official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Annalena Baerbock (3rd L), Germany’s Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, meet for talks at the Prime Minister’s official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, shakes hands with Annalena Baerbock (L), Germany's Foreign Minister, ahead of a joint meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpaBenjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, shakes hands with Annalena Baerbock (L), Germany's Foreign Minister, ahead of a joint meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, shakes hands with Annalena Baerbock (L), Germany’s Foreign Minister, ahead of a joint meeting at the Prime Minister’s official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Annalena Baerbock (L), Germany's Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, attend a joint meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpaAnnalena Baerbock (L), Germany's Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, attend a joint meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Annalena Baerbock (L), Germany’s Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, attend a joint meeting at the Prime Minister’s official residence. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

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