The Israeli military said it targeted two senior Hamas leaders in Rafah and is reviewing the incident, which has drawn international condemnation.

Dozens of people were killed in Rafah late Sunday when an Israeli airstrike hit an area where displaced civilians were sheltering in tents, causing a fire that spread across the camp, local officials reported.

Images showed the area in flames with screaming Palestinians fleeing for safety. Some videos on social media showed disturbing scenes, including severely burned bodies and a man holding what seemed to be the headless body of a small child.

The strike drew condemnation from world leaders just days after the United Nations’ top court ordered Israel to stop its offensive on southern Gaza, where over a million people had sought refuge. Qatar warned it could hinder cease-fire talks, while Israel’s military prosecutor said the “very difficult” incident was under investigation.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it targeted two senior Hamas leaders and would review reports of fire spreading to areas where civilians were sheltering.

The Worlds Times could not independently verify the situation on the ground.

The Gaza health ministry reported that at least 35 people were killed in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood, most of them women and children. First responders warned that the number of casualties could rise as many were trapped in the flames after the bombardment.

By Monday, the Palestinian Civil Defense in Rafah said the death toll had risen to at least 40 people.

“This massacre is the largest in Rafah in months,” spokesman Muhammad Al-Mughir told The Worlds Times. He emphasized that the area hit was a “humanitarian area” next to U.N. warehouses.

Samuel Johann, the emergency coordinator in Gaza for Doctors Without Borders, said Sunday’s strike hit just under a mile from an MSF trauma center. The facility received dozens of people, with at least 28 already dead and 180 injured.

One family described their escape after their apartment building was hit.

“Suddenly, windows shattered,” Hala Siam told The Worlds Times. “The children got scared. We all went out to the street.”

“They said it is safe,” Siam said of the area where her family was sheltering. “There is no safe place in Rafah.”

The IDF said its strike targeted two Hamas leaders responsible for organizing attacks in the West Bank. It acknowledged reports that civilian tents were ignited and said the incident was “under review.”

“The strike was carried out against legitimate targets under international law,” the IDF said, adding that it used “precise munitions” based on “precise intelligence that indicated Hamas’ use of the area.”

The IDF did not immediately respond to questions about targeting a designated safe zone.

Israel’s top military prosecutor described the incident as “very difficult” and noted an investigation was underway.

“The IDF regrets any harm to uninvolved civilians during the war,” Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi said at a conference.

Hamas described the strike as a horrific “massacre” but did not confirm the death of the commanders.

Earlier Sunday, Hamas’ military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, announced a missile barrage into Israel targeting Tel Aviv, the first in many weeks. The IDF said eight projectiles were identified crossing from Rafah into Israeli territory, with some intercepted.

Outrage over Sunday’s Rafah attack prompted condemnation from Qatar and Egypt, who called it a violation of international law. Qatar warned it could jeopardize truce talks.

Following talks in Paris involving CIA Director William Burns, an Israeli official told The Worlds Times that the Israeli government was hopeful talks may resume this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah” and called for the operations to stop.

A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said they were aware of the reports and gathering more information.

In a briefing last Wednesday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Israel’s military operations seemed “more targeted and limited.”

President Joe Biden had warned that a full-scale assault on Rafah could lead him to suspend certain weapons shipments.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced increasing scrutiny over Israel’s conduct in the war, launched after the Hamas-led October 7 attack. About 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage, with 125 still captive in Gaza, some believed to be dead.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza over seven months of war, according to local health authorities. Aid groups warn of catastrophic conditions for civilians lacking food and clean water, raising the risk of famine in parts of the enclave.

Published: 27th May 2024

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