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Israeli attack on Rafah tent camp kills 45

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VIDEO BY REUTERS
REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM
                                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, today.
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REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM

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, today.

REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM
                                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, today.

Related Photo Gallery

The aftermath of an Israeli strike in Rafah

CAIRO/JERUSALEM >> 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.

Survivors said families were preparing to sleep when the strike hit the Tel Al-Sultan neighbourhood where thousands were sheltering there 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.

“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.

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. The incident was being investigated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff investigation mechanism, the Israeli military said on Monday.

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.

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.

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.

NO SAFE ZONE

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.

“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.

“What have they done to deserve this? Their children have been orphaned.”

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.

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.

But it faces global condemnation for failing to spare civilian lives.

“On top of the hunger, on top of the starvation, the refusal to allow aid in sufficient volumes, what we witnessed last night is barbaric,” Ireland’s Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said.

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.

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, since May 6 and have entered some of its eastern districts.

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