Over the weekend, the worst fears of many of us who have been watching the scenes coming out of Gaza in recent months have come to pass.

Israel has begun a major offensive in the Palestinian settlement of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are sheltering from the violence that has already led many to flee their homes.

What has made this all the more harrowing, is that we know the prospect of an end to the violence is closer than it has ever been, with both sides getting round the table and looking to negotiate a lasting and viable ceasefire.

Eastern Rafah and the Rafah crossing is not just a place which continues to provide shelter to many people, but it is also a vital entry point of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Therefore, any sustained military operation in the area, however limited in purported scope, will cause untold damage not just on those in the immediate vicinity, but on those who rely on the aid coming through the crossing.

I have called for the Rafah offensive not to go ahead ever since its prospect was first brought to public attention.

When we have a ceasefire in our grasp, such a reckless use of military force that would leave nothing but death and destruction in its wake is simply unfathomable.

Now is the time to relentlessly pursue a path to peace, which can only come through the delivery of a safe and secure two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in harmony.

Since those awful events of October 7th, where the terrorists of Hamas murdered innocent Israelis, we have seen a consistent pattern emerge.

Innocent people have continued to lose their lives, or have their lives changed beyond recognition.

We now have a chance to turn the tide, and pursue a path to peace, but the continuation of the offensive in Rafah will only serve to further that pattern of innocent lives being lost.

We need an immediate ceasefire to end the offensive, release the hostages, allow aid into Gaza in the quantities required, and ensure efforts are focused on delivering that lasting peace people in the region so desperately need.

Anything less is a betrayal of those people who continue to suffer, and opens the door for even further, catastrophic tragedy.

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