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Fresh Israeli strikes kill 37 Palestinians in Gaza's Rafah amid international outcry

The attacks came after an Israeli strike caused a blaze at a camp that killed 45 Palestinians on Sunday night, sparking an international outcry. Israel marched its tanks into the heart of Rafah in defiance of an ICJ ruling while three European countries recognised Palestinian statehood on Tuesday.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Gaza Published on: May 29, 2024 7:57 IST
Israel Hamas war, Rafah
Image Source : REUTERS Smoke rises following Israeli strikes during an Israeli military operation in Rafah.

Gaza: Fresh Israeli shelling and airstrikes claimed the lives of 37 more Palestinians, most of them sheltering in tents, outside the southern city of Rafah overnight and on Tuesday, according to witnesses, emergency workers and hospital officials, days after one of its strikes that caused a blaze in a tent camp and killed 45 Palestinians inside sparked global condemnation. The tent camp inferno was termed by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a "tragic mistake" after world leaders condemned the strike.

Defying an appeal from the International Court of Justice to hold its Rafah offensive, Israeli tanks advanced to the heart of Rafah for the first time after a night of heavy bombardment, while Spain, Ireland and Norway officially recognised a Palestinian state, a move that further deepened Israel's international isolation. Shelling on Monday and late Tuesday in Rafah's western Tel al-Sultan district, killing at least 16 people, the Palestinian Civil Defense and the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

On Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli drone strike hit tents near a field hospital by the Mediterranean coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people, including 13 women, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. However, Israel has denied conducting the strike even as its tanks advanced to Rafah on the same day.

“It was a night of horror,” said Abdel-Rahman Abu Ismail, a Palestinian from Gaza City who has been sheltering in Tel al-Sultan since December. He said he heard “constant sounds” of explosions overnight and into Tuesday, with fighter jets and drones flying above. Seven of the dead were in tents next to a UN facility about about 200 meters (yards) from the site of Sunday’s fire.

Global outrage over tent camp inferno

Israel’s assault on Rafah, launched May 6, spurred more than 1 million people to flee the city, the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees said Tuesday. Most were already displaced multiple times in the nearly eight-month war between Israel and Hamas. Families are now scattered across makeshift tent camps and other war-ravaged areas. As international unease rises over Israel's conduct in the war, the tent camp fire on Sunday night caused by an Israeli strike that killed 45 Palestinians drew sharp criticism from world leaders.

The Israeli military suggested Sunday’s blaze in the tent camp may have been caused by secondary explosions, possibly from Palestinian militants’ weapons. IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the cause of the fire was still under investigation but that the Israeli munitions used — targeting what the army said was a position with two senior Hamas militants — were too small to be the source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that an Israeli strike was a "tragic mistake" and added it was not intended to cause civilian casualties. He said that the incident will be investigated. US Vice President Kamala Harris said the word "tragic" was not enough to describe the incident. However, the US has not given any indication that it sees Israel crossing a "red line".

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. Canada's government said it was "horrified" by the deadly airstrike in Rafah, and called for an immediate ceasefire while promising more visas for Gazans. Egypt's Foreign Ministry called it a “new and blatant violation of the rules of humanitarian international law.” Jordan's Foreign Ministry called it a "war crime" and Qatar said the strike could complicate ceasefire talks, which appear to be restarting after a period of stalled negotiations.

US policy on Israel

The United States and other allies of Israel have warned against a full-fledged offensive in the city, with the Biden administration saying this would cross a “red line” and refusing to provide offensive arms for such an undertaking. However, the US State Department gave no indication the administration sees Israel as crossing any of the red lines for Rafah, saying the offensive is still on a “far different” scale than assaults on other population centres in Gaza.

The White House says it has seen Israel barging in Rafah with "large units, large numbers of troops in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated manoeuvre against multiple targets on the ground" which if happens, could trigger a policy change towards Israel. US President Joe Biden has no plans to change his Israel policy following the deadly weekend strike on Gaza's Rafah, it added.

The Pentagon had earlier said that it considers Israel's assault on Rafah as "limited in scope." The White House also said it did not support calls from Republicans in Congress for sanctions against the International Criminal Court after its prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

New resolution against Israel

A new UN Security Council resolution to halt the fighting in Rafah was being drafted by Algeria on Tuesday, with plans to potentially bring it to a vote this week. However, it is unlikely to have any impact as the US has vetoed multiple Gaza ceasefire resolutions. Saudi Arabia - which had been in talks to normalise relations with Israel before the war in Gaza erupted - on Tuesday accused Israel of committing "genocide massacres" by targeting Palestinian tents in Rafah, saying it held Israel accountable for its actions.

Egypt is again trying in tandem with Qatar and the US to revive talks on a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, but efforts have been hampered by Israel's assault on Rafah, Cairo's state-affiliated Al-Qahera News TV channel said on Tuesday, citing a senior official. Hamas has said talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive in Rafah.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's health ministry says. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on October 7 last year, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

(with inputs from agencies)

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