Israel faces global outcry over Gaza strike that set ablaze tent city

AFP , Monday 27 May 2024

Israel faced a wave of international condemnation Monday over a strike that Palestinian officials said killed 45 people when it set off a fire that ripped through a tent city for displaced Palestinians.

Israeli strike on UNRWA camp in Rafah
Palestinians react next to the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip. AP

Israel said it was looking into the "grave and awful" impact on civilians after the latest mass casualty event in the Gaza war which has raged since October 7.

The army claimed Sunday evening's attack in the southern Rafah area had targeted and killed two senior Hamas operatives, but it also sparked a fire that Palestinians and many Arab countries condemned as a "massacre".

The UN called on Israel to conduct a "thorough and transparent" investigation into the Rafah strike, as the Israeli military said it was launching a probe into civilian deaths.

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X that "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."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was "horrified by the news coming out of Rafah on Israeli strikes killing dozens of displaced persons, including small children. I condemn this in the strongest terms".

"We're looking into this," Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman told a media briefing.

"It was definitely grave. Any loss of life, civilian live, is grave and is awful. We seek to go after Hamas and limit civilian casualties... This is an unfolding story."

Israel's army said its aircraft also "struck a Hamas compound in Rafah" and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, both senior officials for the militant group in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza's civil defence agency said the strike set off a fire that tore through a displacement centre in northwestern Rafah near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinians, UNRWA.

"We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs ... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly," said agency official Mohammad al-Mughayyir.

"We had just done with the evening prayers," recalled one survivor, a 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."

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

The ICRC said one of its field hospitals was receiving an "influx of casualties seeking care for injuries and burns" and that its teams were "doing their best to save lives".

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impacts of Israel's siege.

"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."

'Dangerous violation' 

Across the region, the Israeli attack sparked strong protests from mediators Egypt and Qatar as well as from Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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

Jordan accused Israel of "ongoing war crimes" and Saudi Arabia condemned "in the strongest terms the continued massacres committed by Israeli occupation forces".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said "we will do everything possible to hold these barbarians and murderers accountable".

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

The African Union chair Moussa Faki Mahamat also condemned the attack on X saying: "Israel continues to violate international law with impunity and in contempt of an ICJ ruling two days ago ordering an end to its military action in Rafah."

The top world court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah.

'Justice for the Palestinians' 

Since Oct.7, Israel's brutal sea, air and land military campiagn on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 36,050 people, most of them women and children, with another 81,026 people wounded according to the Palestinian health ministry.

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

On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland, and Norway are due to formally recognize a Palestinian state, a step so far taken by more than 140 UN members but few Western powers.

Israel, which charges the move amounts to "rewarding terrorism", on Monday announced punitive steps against Madrid, ordering its consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering consular services to Palestinians from June 1.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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