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Israeli attack on Rafah tent camp kills 45, prompts international outcry
Israeli attack on Rafah tent camp kills 45, prompts international outcry
World
Israeli attack on Rafah tent camp kills 45, prompts international outcry
by DZRH News28 May 2024
Palestinians search for food among burnt debris in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

CAIRO/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -An Israeli airstrike triggered a fire that killed 45 people in a tent camp in the Gazan city of Rafah, officials said on Monday, prompting an outcry from global leaders who urged the implementation of a World Court order to halt Israel's assault.

Palestinian families rushed to hospitals to prepare their dead for burial after a strike late on Sunday night set tents and rickety metal shelters ablaze.

Israel's military, which is trying to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, said it was investigating reports that a strike it carried out against commanders of the Islamist militant group in Rafah had caused the fire.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike had not been intended to cause civilian casualties.

"In Rafah, we already evacuated about 1 million non-combatant residents and despite our utmost effort not to harm non-combatants, something unfortunately went tragically wrong," he said in a speech in parliament that was interrupted by shouting from opposition lawmakers.

Survivors said families were preparing to sleep when the strike hit the Tel Al-Sultan neighbourhood where thousands were sheltering after Israeli forces began a ground offensive in the east of Rafah over two weeks ago.

"We were praying... and we were getting our children's beds ready to sleep. There was nothing unusual, then we heard a very loud noise, and fire erupted around us," said Umm Mohamed Al-Attar, a Palestinian mother in a red headscarf.

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"All the children started screaming... The sound was terrifying; we felt like the metal was about to collapse on us, and shrapnel fell into the rooms."

Video footage obtained by Reuters showed a fire raging in the darkness and people screaming in panic. A group of young men tried to haul away sheets of corrugated iron and a hose from a single fire truck began to douse the flames.

More than half of the dead were women, children, and elderly people, health officials in Hamas-run Gaza said, adding that the death toll was likely to rise from people with severe burns.

Medics later said an Israeli airstrike on Monday on a house in Rafah had killed seven Palestinians, with several others wounded.

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Israel's military said Sunday's strike, based on "precise intelligence", had eliminated Hamas' chief of staff for the second and larger Palestinian territory, the West Bank, plus another official behind deadly attacks on Israelis.

That followed the interception of eight rockets fired towards Israel from the Rafah area in Gaza's southern tip.

Israel has kept up its offensive despite a ruling by the top U.N. court on Friday ordering it to stop, saying the court's ruling grants it some scope for military action there. The court also reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.

The U.S. urged Israel to take more care to protect civilians, but stopped short of calling for a halt to the Rafah incursion.

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"Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians," a National Security Council spokesperson said. "But as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians."

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was "outraged" over Israel's latest attacks. "These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians," he said on X. Several thousand demonstrators later gathered in Paris to protest against the offensive in Gaza.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the International Court of Justice ruling must be respected.

"International humanitarian law applies for all, also for Israel's conduct of the war," Baerbock said.

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Canada's government said it was "horrified" by the deadly airstrike in Rafah, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

"Canada does not support an Israeli military operation in Rafah," Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a post on X. "This level of human suffering must come to an end."

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also condemned the Israeli attack and Qatar said the Rafah strike could hinder efforts to mediate a ceasefire and hostage exchange.

NO SAFE ZONE

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More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's health ministry says. Israel launched the operation after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

By daylight, the camp in Rafah was a smoking wreckage of tents, twisted metal and charred belongings.

Women wept and men held prayers beside bodies in shrouds.

Sitting beside bodies of his relatives, Abed Mohammed Al-Attar said Israel lied when it told residents they would be safe in Rafah's western areas. His brother, sister-in-law and several other relatives were killed in the blaze.

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"The army is a liar. There is no security in Gaza. There is no security, not for a child, an elderly man, or a woman. Here he (my brother) is with his wife, they were martyred," he said.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs based in the West Bank condemned "the heinous massacre." Egypt also condemned Israel's "deliberate bombing of the tents of displaced people", state media reported, describing it as a blatant violation of international law.

On Monday, the Israeli military said it was investigating reports of an exchange of fire between Israeli and Egyptian soldiers close to the Rafah border crossing with Gaza.

Egypt's military spokesperson said that shooting near the Rafah crossing led to the killing of one person and authorities were investigating.

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Israeli tanks stepped up the intensity of bombardments of eastern and central areas of Rafah on Monday, killing at least eight, local health officials said. Two medical workers were killed by a missile fired from a drone as they left the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah, medics said.

In Al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza Strip, an Israeli attack killed three Palestinian police officers, Gaza's Hamas-run interior ministry said.

Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area.

(Additional Dan Williams and James Mackenzie in Jerusalem; Jana Choukeir and Clauda Tanios and Mohammed Salem; Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva; Tassilo Hummel, Jarrett Renshaw and Adam Makary; Writing by Ros Russell, Sharon Singleton and Deepa Babington; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)

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