A potential full-fledged military incursion into Rafah-where some 1.5 million Palestinians are packed against the Egyptian border with nowhere further to flee-"is terrifying," said the UN human rights chief on Monday.
Volker Turk said in a statement that it is likely an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will probably be killed and injured as Israel unleashes its forces in the southern Gaza Strip.
"Not so long ago, I had flagged the unimaginable suffering faced by Palestinians in Gaza. Today, sadly, given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza, it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah," said Turk.
"Beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets, this incursion into Rafah may also mean the end of the meager humanitarian aid that has been entering and distributed, with huge implications for all of Gaza."
That includes the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in northern Gaza.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said earlier Monday that increased airstrikes in Rafah had heightened concerns of an escalation in Gaza's most southerly city, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge,
Turk said his office had repeatedly warned against actions that violate the laws of war, noting that the prospect of such an operation into Rafah, as circumstances stand, risks further atrocities and crimes.
"Israel must comply with the legally binding orders issued by the International Court of Justice (this January) and with the full span of international humanitarian law. Those who defy international law have been put on notice. Accountability must follow," said the UN humanitarian chief.
"The world must not allow this to happen. Those with influence must restrain rather than enable."
Turk said there must be an immediate cease-fire, and all remaining hostages held by Hamas and other organizations must be released.
"And there must be renewed collective resolve to reach a political solution," he said.
Israeli has warned of a ground offensive in Rafah, home to more than 1 million residents seeking refuge from war, to defeat what Israel says are the remaining "Hamas battalions."
The offensive triggered concerns of a humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah.
Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah as Israel pounded the rest of the enclave since Oct. 7. The ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed more than 28,000 victims and caused mass destruction and shortages of necessities.
The Israeli war on Gaza has pushed 85% of the territory's population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60% of the enclave's infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.