Saudi Arabia has warned Israel that a planned invasion of the city of Rafah may cause an imminent humanitarian disaster.
The oil-rich nation’s foreign ministry released a statement on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict as Israel is poised to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, which borders Egypt at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. More than half of Gaza’s estimated 2.3 million population is now packed into the city.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate the population city ahead of a ground invasion to destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.
Netanyahu said he asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from the city ahead of the ground invasion. A large portion of the current population has fled into the city from other parts of Gaza since the onset of the conflict and Saudi Arabia says they have nowhere else to go. A timeline for a potential ground invasion is not known.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia warns of the very serious repercussions of storming and targeting the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which is the last resort for hundreds of thousands of civilians forced by the brutal Israeli aggression to flee,” a statement by Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry reads.
“The Kingdom affirms its categorical rejection and strong condemnation of their forcible deportation and renews its demand for an immediate ceasefire.”
The warning from Saudi Arabia came on the same day that 31 Palestinians, including 10 children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the city.
Earlier this week Netanyahu vowed that Israeli forces would fight on until “total victory”, including in Rafah, after ceasefire talks failed.
Rafah’s population stood at 264,000 in early 2022, but since the onset of the conflict, the population has ballooned to around 1.4 million as people seek shelter there, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. It is unclear where civilians in Rafah could flee to next.
At least 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and 67,600 others have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct. 7, the health ministry in Gaza said on Saturday, according to Reuters. The conflict has been raging for four months and was sparked after a surprise terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, in which militants crossed the border from Gaza and massacred some 1,200 people.
“This continued violation of international law and international humanitarian law confirms the need for an urgent convening of the U.N. Security Council to prevent Israel from causing an imminent humanitarian disaster for which everyone who supports the aggression is responsible,” the Saudi statement concludes.
Saudi Arabia has never formally recognized Israel, although it had been in diplomatic talks with the U.S. to do so in the months leading up to the Oct. 7 attacks, leading Riyadh to shelve the matter in the face of Arab anger over Israel’s offensive.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital and main financial hub.
Saudi Arabia has told the U.S. it will not open diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, its foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Riyadh reiterated its call for permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that have not recognized a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital to do so, a ministry statement said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.