At least 45 killed in Israeli strike on camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah

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Dozens of people were killed on Sunday after a fire broke out following an Israeli airstrike on a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza.

At least 45 people were killed and more than 200 others injured in the strike, most of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and Palestinian medics. No hospital in Rafah had the capacity to take the number of casualties, the ministry said.

“Several civilians are still trapped inside the camp, which was attacked without warning,” a Palestinian man filming the fire said. “This was declared a safe zone.”

The attack came after Hamas launched rockets at Tel Aviv on Sunday for the first time in months. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that eight rockets were fired from the Rafah area, and that “a number of projectiles” had been intercepted. The IDF said it destroyed the rocket launchers used by Hamas shortly after the strikes.

The Israeli military said in a Monday statement that it struck “a compound in Rafah in which significant Hamas terrorists were operating,” and said it is aware of reports of civilian harm following the strike and fire.

“We are aware of the claim that… a number of uninvolved people were injured,” Avichay Adraee, head of the Arab media division of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, said on X. “The circumstances of the accident are being investigated.”

The IDF’s Chief Prosecutor Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi said the details of the Rafah strike are still under review, and that the IDF is “committed to seeing it through to conclusion.”

It was among the deadliest strikes by the Israeli military on Gaza’s southernmost city since Israel began its operation there on May 7. It also came just days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ top court, ordered Israel to “immediately halt” its military operation in Rafah, and any other action in the city, “which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

More than 36,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military operation there, according to the Ministry of Health in the enclave, which started after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

Footage of the aftermath shared on social media showed chaotic scenes.

In one video, the lifeless body of a man was seen being dragged by the legs out of the flames. “He’s dead, he’s dead,” a rescuer says before moving on to find others. In another video, a man wept as he held up the headless body of a toddler for the camera. Women shrieked in grief as children peered into the fire. A man with a bloodied face stood in apparent shock, examining his wounds with one hand, as he held an infant with blood-stained clothes in the other arm. One of the bodies pulled out of the fire was charred-stiff.

By Monday morning, the camp was in ruins with small fires still burning. Men and boys gathered around, rummaging through the burned and smoking wreckage for food and their belongings as drones hovered above. One of the structures still standing was a sign that read: “Kuwait peace camp 1.”

Mohammad Abu Al Subeh, a displaced Palestinian man who survived the strike, said as he was lying in bed in the evening when he saw “rockets fired down at us.”

Hamas called the attack “a horrific war crime” and “terrible massacre.”

International outrage

International condemnation was swift, with UN agencies, aid groups and governments calling on Israel to respect the ICJ ruling and halt its Rafah operation.

“Despite the ICJ binding ruling, Israel struck Rafah and Hamas fired rockets to Israel,” the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, wrote Monday on X.  On Monday, in a meeting with Arab leaders to discuss Gaza and the Middle, Borrell said that “what we have seen in the immediate hours is that Israel continues the military action that it has been asked to stop.”

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was “horrified by this deadly event, which shows once again that nowhere is safe.” The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said “Gaza is hell on earth,” referring to the Rafah attack.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged” and called for an “immediate ceasefire.”

Critics have pushed back on Israel’s claims. Already worried about an intensifying war right on its border with Gaza, Egypt on Monday condemned Israel’s strike on Rafah, calling on the Jewish state to implement the ICJ ruling of “halting military operations” in Rafah and to “comply with its responsibilities as an occupying power”.

A mediator in the war, Egypt is set to host another round of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday. Qatar, another key mediator, said Israel’s strike could “hinder” ongoing negotiations, and called the attack a “serious violation of international law.”

Over a million Palestinians had been sheltering in Rafah before Israel began its operations there, having fled there from other areas of Gaza after Israel began its military campaign in the territory.

Israel has said it had ordered civilians to leave some areas of Rafah, but many remain there, sheltering in what Israel designated as “safe zones.”

More than 800,000 people have fled Rafah since May 6, according to UN figures.

Israel has vowed to press on with its Rafah operation despite international outrage and a US warning not to proceed. In response to the ICJ ruling last week, Israel said it “has not and will not conduct military actions in the Rafah area which may inflict on the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

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