Israel faces international condemnation after attacks on Rafah camp kill 45

Israeli prime minister describes incident as ‘tragic error’ as world leaders call for application of International Court of Justice’s order for Israel to cease assault on Gazans

Israel faced international condemnation on Monday after an air strike on Gaza killed at least 45 people in a tent encampment for displaced residents in the southern city of Rafah.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu described the incident, which the Israeli military said was an intended strike on Hamas commanders, as a “tragic error”. But world leaders expressed revulsion and urged Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah as ordered to last week by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which warned of the danger of mass civilian fatalities.

More than half of those who were killed were women, children and elderly, health officials in Gaza said. The tent encampment in the Tel al-Sultan neighbourhood, two kilometres northwest of Rafah’s centre, is populated by residents who were sheltering after Israeli forces began a ground offensive in the east of Rafah over two weeks ago.

Survivors said families were preparing to sleep when the strike hit. “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.


“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.

In a speech in parliament that was interrupted by shouting from opposition legislators, Mr Netanyahu said it had not been intended to cause civilian casualties. He said “for us, every uninvolved being hurt [in the Israel-Hamas war] is a tragedy”.

But French president Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah”.

“These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” he wrote on the social-media platform X.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said he was horrified. “I condemn this in the strongest terms,” he said, “There is no safe place in Gaza. These attacks must stop immediately.”

The White House described the incident as ‘heartbreaking.’ “Israel has a right to go after Hamas, but as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians. We are actively engaging the [Israel Defense Forces] and partners on the ground to assess what happened,” said a spokesman for the National Security Council spokesperson.

The IDF said it was examining the incident but expressed regret over the deaths of innocent civilians, saying the air strike targeted the head of Hamas operations in the West Bank, Yassin Rabia, as well as senior Hamas official Khaled Nagaram “on the basis of preliminary intelligence information about their presence at the location”.

According to the IDF many steps were taken to reduce the chances of harm to civilians, including drone surveillance and the use of additional intelligence information, along with the use of precision weaponry with a reduced-size warhead. It said the attack was not carried out in the humanitarian zone in Al Mawasi, to where the IDF called on the population to evacuate in recent weeks.

Hamas described the incident as a massacre and in response said it would not participate in negotiations that were due to resume this week for a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

In a separate serious incident, this time close to the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, an Egyptian soldier was killed, and several others wounded in an exchange of fire with IDF forces. Both countries are investigating the incident and made it clear they seek to prevent an escalation. It is believed that an Egyptian soldier fired first towards the Israeli forces, who took control of the Palestinian side of the crossing three weeks ago,

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7th last. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on that day. It says 125 hostages remain in Hamas captivity but it is not known how many are alive. – Additional reporting: Reuters

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