Jordan’s foreign minister says Israel aiming ‘to empty Gaza of its people’

Addressing the Doha Forum, Ayman Safadi says Israel’s operation in Gaza meets the ‘legal definition of genocide’.

A displaced Palestinian family who fled Khan Yunis sets up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt.
A displaced Palestinian family that fled Khan Younis sets up camp in Rafah in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt [File: Mohammed Abed/AFP]

Jordan and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees have accused Israel of aiming to cleanse Gaza of its people through an “indiscriminate and brutal offensive” in response to the October 7 Hamas attack.

Speaking at the Doha Forum held in the Qatari capital on Sunday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Israel was implementing a policy of pushing the Palestinians out of Gaza through a war that he said meets the “legal definition of genocide”.

“What we are seeing in Gaza is not just simply the killing of innocent people and the destruction of their livelihoods, but a systematic effort to empty Gaza of its people,” Safadi said.

“We have not seen the world yet come to the place we should come to … an unequivocal demand for ending this war, a war that is within the legal definition of genocide.”

Safadi argued that Israel’s avowed goal of destroying Hamas was belied by the extent of destruction among Gaza civilians, which he described as “indiscriminate”.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), also accused Israel of planning a mass expulsion of people from Gaza into Egypt.

“The United Nations and several member states, including the United States, have firmly rejected forcibly displacing Gazans out of the Gaza Strip,” Lazzarini said in his address at the Doha Forum.

“But the developments we are witnessing point to attempts to move Palestinians into Egypt, regardless of whether they stay there or are resettled elsewhere.”

Lazzarini said the widespread destruction in the Palestinian territory’s north and the resulting displacements were “the first stage of such a scenario”, adding that forcing civilians from the southern city of Khan Younis closer to the Egyptian border was the next stage.

“If this path continues, leading to what many are already calling a second Nakba, Gaza will not be a land for Palestinians any more,” Lazzarini said, using the Arabic term for the exodus or forced displacement of 760,000 Palestinians during a war that coincided with Israel’s creation in 1948.

The Israeli government rejected the accusations, with its spokesperson Eylon Levy calling them “outrageous and false”.

“Israel is fighting to defend itself from the monsters who perpetrated the October 7 massacre, and the purpose of our campaign is to bring those monsters to justice and ensure they never again hurt our people,” he said.

Levy said Israel has been urging civilians in Gaza to relocate from battlegrounds for their own safety and would like to see other nations echo that call.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Ministry also responded to the statements made by the UNRWA chief, saying: “There is not, never was and never will be an Israeli plan to move the residents of Gaza to Egypt. This is simply not true.”

However, in recent months, several Israeli ministers have publicly made comments suggesting the Israeli operation is aimed at pushing the Palestinians out of Gaza.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel last month said “one option” after the war could be “to promote the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons, outside of the Strip”.

And former Israeli officials have suggested in TV interviews that Egypt could build vast tent cities in its Sinai desert, with international funding, for the displaced Palestinians.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies