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Russia warns of 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestinians if Israel launches ground assault on Rafah

Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov gives a press conference on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Antalya, Turkey, on March 2, 2024. (Via Sputnik)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that Israel's plan to launch a ground assault against the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip could lead to "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians.

Speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey on Saturday, Lavrov voiced Moscow's concern over Israeli plans to conduct a military offensive in Rafah, where two-thirds of the Palestinians in Gaza are seeking shelter from violence.

"If the operation of Rafah begins, a huge number of refugees will leave for Egypt, and the Egyptians have repeatedly stated that this is unacceptable. This will be ethnic cleansing in fact," he said.

"A real tragedy is taking place in Gaza, which has no end in sight," he added.

Rafah, a town along the Egyptian border, which was once declared a “safe zone” by the Israeli military, has now become the last refuge for over half of Gaza’s entire population of more than 2.3 million, who have fled their homes in other parts of the territory.

Egypt has already threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if the regime sends its troops to Rafah. It said any ground invasion could force the closure of the besieged territory’s main aid supply route.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned on Monday that such an invasion would “put the final nail in the coffin” of aid operations in Gaza.

The top Russian diplomat emphasized that despite a lot of initiatives on a ceasefire and humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities have not changed their goal of "clean up Gaza completely, eliminate Hamas".

Even the Western representatives wonder how this could be possible to eliminate the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas by 100 percent, he noted.

Lavrov said Israel claims that everyone in Gaza is Hamas and therefore it is necessary to destroy all the inhabitants of the strip.

The Russian minister cited Israeli authorities as saying that a ground invasion of Rafah was aimed at "ensuring the security" of Tel Aviv.

"This is fully contrary to all UN decisions, it is contrary to common sense, it is contrary to justice. This means that Palestinians can be thrown out of the lands where their ancestors lived and all their rights are despised," Lavrov emphasized.

He also called for paying more heed to the situation in the West Bank, where Israeli occupation army raids against Palestinians have become more frequent.

Since October 7, at least 30,410 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed and more than 71,700 injured as a result of the Israeli regime forces' continuous onslaught in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has also imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, leaving its population, particularly residents of northern Gaza, on the verge of starvation.

In its interim ruling in January, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to stop genocidal acts in Gaza and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in the besieged Strip.

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