Israeli Airstrike Kills Dozens in Tent Camp in Rafah, Gazan Officials Say

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An Israeli airstrike on a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza, killed at least 45 people on Sunday night and wounded 249, the Gaza Health Ministry said on Monday. The Israeli military said the strike was aimed at a Hamas compound.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it was looking into reports that “several civilians in the area were harmed” by the airstrike and a subsequent fire. A follow-up statement said the strike had killed two Hamas leaders. A legal official with the military said Monday that the strike was under review.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that its ambulance crews had taken a “large” number of victims to the Tal as Sultan clinic and field hospitals in Rafah, where few functioning hospitals remain, and that “numerous” people had been trapped in fires at the site of the strikes.

The Red Crescent said the strike hit the Tal as Sultan area of Rafah, within what the Israeli military has designated as a humanitarian zone, where it had told Palestinian civilians to go for shelter ahead of its ground offensive in Rafah. But two Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the strike was not inside a humanitarian zone.

Israel’s assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, has come under intense scrutiny, particularly after the International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to “immediately” halt the military offensive there. Though the court has few effective means of enforcing its order, it puts more pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein in its attacks in Gaza and reduce civilian casualties.

Bilal al-Sapti, 30, a construction worker in Rafah, said that shrapnel from the strike tore up the tent where he was staying with his wife and two children, but that his family was uninjured.

“What kind of a tent will protect us from missiles and shrapnel?” he said.

Mr. al-Sapti said that at the scene of the strike he saw charred bodies and people screaming as firefighters tried to put out the flames. “The fire was very strong and was all over the camp,” he said. “There was darkness and no electricity.”

Doctors Without Borders said more than 15 dead people and dozens of wounded in the Rafah strike were brought to a trauma stabilization center that it supports in Tal as Sultan.

Dr. James Smith, a British emergency specialist in Rafah who has been working at that center, said the attack had killed displaced people who were “seeking some degree of sanctuary and shelter in tarpaulin tents.”

Speaking from a house a few miles away from the trauma center, a distance that he said had become too dangerous to cross, Dr. Smith said footage shared by his colleagues at the trauma center of injuries from the strike and the fire were “truly some of the worst that I have seen.”

Though the United Nations estimates that more than 800,000 people fled Rafah in a matter of weeks after the Israeli military announced its offensive, the area remains densely populated, Dr. Smith said.

“These are very, very tightly packed tents,” he said. “And a fire like this could spread over a huge distance with catastrophic consequences in a very, very short space of time.”

The attack was “one of the most horrific things that I have seen or heard of in all of the weeks that I’ve been working in Gaza,” he added.

Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the Israeli military’s top legal official, said on Monday that the airstrike was under review. She said the military police had opened around 70 criminal investigations into potential misconduct during the war.

“Naturally, in a war of such scope and intensity, complex incidents also occur,” General Tomer-Yerushalmi said in a speech to the Israeli Bar Association. “Some of the incidents, like last night’s incident in Rafah, are very serious.” She added that the military “regrets any harm to uninvolved civilians during the war.”

Reporting was contributed by Patrick Kingsley, Johnatan Reiss, Iyad Abuheweila and Aaron Boxerman.



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