Faced with global outrage, Netanyahu calls civilian deaths in Rafah strike a 'tragic accident'

With growing international condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the killing of dozens of people a day earlier at a camp for Palestinian displaced people in Rafah was “a tragic accident,” but gave no sign of wanting to slow down the Israeli offensive in the area. southern city of Gaza.

The deadly fire that ravaged the camp on Sunday after an airstrike came at a particularly sensitive time for Israel, just days after the International Court of Justice appeared to order the country's army to halt the offensive in Rafah and as diplomats aimed to restart negotiations. for a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli military said the target of Sunday's attack in Rafah was a Hamas compound and that “precise munitions” had been used to hit a commander and another senior militant official there.

But according to Gaza's health ministry at least 45 people, including children, were killed by the explosion and the fires it caused. The ministry said 249 people were injured.

In a speech to Israel's parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said the army sought to protect non-combatants by issuing evacuation orders, adding that around a million civilians had left Rafah before or during the offensive. “Despite our supreme effort not to harm uninvolved civilians,” he said, “last night a tragic accident occurred to our regret.”

He accused Hamas of hiding among the population and said: “For us, every uninvolved civilian who is injured is a tragedy. For Hamas it is a strategy. That's all the difference.

When images of the dead and maimed reached screens around the world, condemnation was immediate. The latest disapproval appears to have made it even more difficult for Israel to continue its campaign against Hamas in Rafah, the southern city where about a million displaced Gazans have fled.

On Monday, an Israeli ally, French President Emmanuel Macron, said he was “outraged” by the airstrike in Rafah and said these operations “must end.” He called for “full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.”

The Israeli government, which invaded the Gaza Strip after a Hamas-led attack from there killed around 1,200 people in Israel, claims it has no choice but to move to Rafah if it wants to wipe out the militants. The city, the Israelis say, is a stronghold from which Hamas fighters fired rockets deep into central Israel on Sunday for the first time in months.

But as Rafah hosts displaced Gazans forced to take refuge in the city due to previous fighting in the north, world leaders have warned of the dangers of a major military operation in the area.

Sunday's deaths appeared to be exactly what those urging Israel to proceed with caution had been concerned about.

Bilal al-Sapti, 30, a construction worker in Rafah, said he saw charred bodies in the rubble of the camp and heard people screaming as firefighters tried to put out the flames. “The fire was very strong and was all over the field,” he said.

Dr Marwan al-Hams, who was at the Tal Al Sultan health centre, where many of the victims first arrived, said most of the dead and injured he had seen were women and children. “Many of the corpses were badly burned, had limbs amputated and torn to pieces,” he said.

Hamas, in a statement, described the Israeli attack on Rafah as “a horrific war crime” and called for the “immediate and urgent implementation” of the World Court's decision. The group did not refer to Israeli military claims that two Hamas officials were killed in the attack.

The Israeli military said it had taken a number of measures before the attack to reduce the risk of harm to civilians, including aerial surveillance and the use of what it described as precise munitions. “Based on these measures, it was assessed that there would be no expected harm to uninvolved civilians,” he said.

But an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said Monday that an initial investigation by the military had concluded that the attack, or its shrapnel, may have unexpectedly ignited a flammable substance in the camp. Eyewitnesses described intense fires in the aftermath of the strike.

Military drone footage of the attack reviewed by The New York Times showed the munitions hitting an area containing several large cabin-like structures and parked cars.

Two Israeli officials said the attack occurred outside a designated humanitarian zone, created to provide safe haven for displaced people. The officials produced a map showing what it said was the location of the strike in relation to the area.

The military identified the two targets of the attack as the commander of the Hamas leadership in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Yassin Rabi, and a senior official from the same wing of the group, Khaled Nagar.

In an ambiguously worded order, the International Court of Justice, an arm of the United Nations that is hearing arguments related to allegations that Israel committed genocide in Gaza, called on Israel to immediately stop any action in Rafah that “could inflict living conditions on Palestinians in Gaza that would lead to its total or partial physical destruction.”

Israeli officials argued that the 13-2 ruling allowed them to continue fighting in Rafah because it would not inflict such genocidal conditions. But some of Israel's allies don't see the order that way. Even before the latest civilian deaths, the German vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, had said that the offensive in Rafah was “incompatible with international law”.

Late Sunday, Israel's war cabinet met to discuss continuing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would lead to freedom for hostages seized during the Oct. 7 attacks, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the interviews.

Diplomats aim to restart negotiations in the next week, according to three officials briefed on the process. According to authorities, preliminary talks took place this weekend in Paris.

Reporting contribution was provided by Yazbek error, Abu Bakr Bashir, This is Abuheweila, Patrick Kingsley, Myra Novec AND Johnatan Reiss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *