Planned military offensive in Rafah ‘completely unacceptable,’ says European Commission head


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has expressed her opposition to a planned military operation in Rafah, a southern Gaza Strip city packed with 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

“It would be “completely unacceptable” for Israel to attack Rafah, von der Leyen told a debate on Monday co-hosted by POLITICO in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

The commission president, running for a second term, recalled that she had visited Rafah and said the situation there is “unbearable” and “unacceptable.”

Von der Leyen said: “I’m never drawing red lines, but I think it would be completely unacceptable if (Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu would invade,” she replied in response to a question whether attacking Rafah would be “a red line” and bring sanctions against Israel.

She noted that the EU Commission would “sit down” with member states and “act on that” in case of an invasion of Rafah.

Despite growing international opposition, Israel has announced plans to launch a ground attack in Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge from Israel’s deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Asked about how she proposes to end the war, von der Leyen reiterated that she has always defended “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Ahead of the debate, she faced a reaction over her stance on Israel after video footage circulated on social media showed her being shouted at by a protester: “You are a war criminal.”

Von der Leyen has met wide-range of criticism since Oct. 7 over her unconditional support to Israel.

In December, Irish Member of the European Parliament Clare Daly criticized her over her stance on relentless Israeli attacks on Gaza, calling her “Frau Genocide.”

Israel has waged a brutal offensive on Gaza since a cross-border attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on Oct. 7 last year, which Tel Aviv says killed nearly 1,200 people.

Nearly 34,500 Palestinians have since been killed, mostly women and children, and over 77,600 others injured amid mass destruction and severe shortages of necessities.

More than six months into the Israeli war, vast swathes of Gaza lay in ruins, pushing 85% of the enclave’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water, and medicine, according to the UN.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice. An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.__The Nation