Israel launches deadly strikes on Rafah refugee camp in "horrific massacre"

Gaza - Gaza's civil defense agency said Monday that the death toll had risen to 40 from overnight Israeli strikes that set ablaze tents of displaced Palestinians in Rafah, an attack that sparked condemnation across the world.

Fire rages following an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Fire rages following an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.  © REUTERS

Israel's army said the air strikes late Sunday, hours after a rocket attack had targeted Tel Aviv, had killed two senior Hamas operatives, and that it was investigating the reports of civilians killed in a fire.

Gaza's civil defense agency said Monday that many bodies were "charred" after the strikes triggered a fire that ripped through a displacement center in northwest Rafah. The government media office in Gaza branded the attack a "horrific massacre."

"The massacre committed by the Israeli occupation army in the refugee tents northwest of Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip has left 40 martyrs and 65 wounded," said civil defense agency official Mohammad al-Mughayyir.

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"We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs ... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly."

Footage released by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic night-time scenes of paramedics in ambulances racing to the fiery attack site and evacuating the wounded, including children.

"We had just done with the evening prayers," recalled one survivor, a Palestinian woman who declined to be named.

"Our children were asleep ... suddenly we heard a loud sound and there was fire all around us. The children were screaming ... the sound was terrifying."

Israel's army had said overnight that its aircraft had "struck a Hamas compound in Rafah", killing Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, both senior officials for the Palestinian militant group in the occupied West Bank. It added that it was "aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited, several civilians in the area were harmed. The incident is under review."

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impacts of Israel's months-long siege on the occupied territory.

"There is a fuel shortage ... there are roads that have been destroyed, which hinders the movement of civil defence vehicles in these targeted areas," he said. "There is also a shortage of water to extinguish fires."

Israel opposes end to Gaza assault

Palestinians search for food among burned debris in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people in Rafah.
Palestinians search for food among burned debris in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people in Rafah.  © REUTERS

Israel's military launched a brutal ground invasion of Rafah in early May despite widespread international opposition over concerns for forcibly displaced civilians sheltering there.

Netanyahu vowed to pursue the offensive ahead of a war cabinet meeting amid international efforts a truce and a hostage-release deal. He has long rejected Hamas' demand for a permanent end to the conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the war cabinet would "discuss a hostage release deal" on Sunday.

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Before the meeting, Netanyahu's office said Hamas' chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, "continues to demand the end of the war, the withdrawal of the IDF (army) from the Gaza Strip and leaving Hamas in place, so that it will be able to carry out the atrocities of October 7 again and again."

"Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly opposes this," a statement said.

EU members Ireland and Spain, and also Norway, have said they will recognize a Palestinian state from Tuesday, drawing furious Israeli condemnation.

"In order to make peace, we need a strong Palestinian Authority, not a weaker one," said the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who met in Brussels with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa.

Mustafa, whose government is based in the occupied West Bank, said the "first priority" was to support the people in Gaza, especially through a ceasefire, and then "rebuilding the institutions of the Palestinian Authority" in the territory after Hamas seized it from the PA in 2007.

The Israeli official had said Saturday that "there is an intention to renew these talks this week" after negotiations involving US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators stalled in early May.

Israel accused of genocide and war crimes

Children look into a vehicle carrying the bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli strike, during a funeral in Rafah.
Children look into a vehicle carrying the bodies of Palestinians killed in an Israeli strike, during a funeral in Rafah.  © REUTERS

Hamas' armed wing said Sunday that it targeted Tel Aviv "with a large rocket barrage in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians."

"Hamas launched these rockets from near two mosques in Rafah," Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

The salvo sent people scrambling for shelter, but there were no reports of injuries.

The United Nations has warned of looming famine in besieged Gaza, where most hospitals are no longer functioning.

Last Monday, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) said he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as for three top Hamas figures.

The UN's International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to halt any operation in Rafah that could bring about "the physical destruction" of the Palestinians. The ruling came amid a wider genocide case against Israel brought by South Africa.

Now, Amnesty International is urging the ICC to investigate as war crimes three recent Israeli strikes that killed 44 Palestinian civilians, including 32 children.

The rights group said Monday that the strikes – one on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza on April 16, and two on Rafah on April 19 and 20 – were "further evidence of a broader pattern of war crimes" committed by Israel.

International community responds to Rafah massacre

A Palestinian boy looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah.
A Palestinian boy looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah.  © REUTERS

The latest Rafah attack has sparked international outrage.

Egypt deplored the "targeting of defenseless civilians" and labeled it part of "a systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable."

Jordan also expressed its condemnation, accusing Israel of committing "ongoing war crimes."

Kuwait charged the attack exposed Israel's "blatant war crimes and unprecedented genocide to the whole world."

Qatar condemned the Israeli bombing as a "dangerous violation of international law." The country's foreign ministry also voiced "concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts and hinder reaching an agreement for an immediate and permanent ceasefire."

Meanwhile, Israel's top ally, the United States, has strongly urged all sides to resume truce talks, while continuing to supply Israel with billions of dollars' worth of weapons.

Israel has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza since October, according to the occupied territory's health ministry.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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