Israel bombards Gaza’s Rafah amid international condemnation – as tanks reach heart of city

Israel has launched a fresh bombardment of Gaza‘s Rafah, with tanks reaching the heart of the border city, as international condemnation builds over an airstrike that killed dozens of Palestinians at the weekend.

At least 45 people were killed in the strike that caused a large blaze at a camp for displaced people. Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds, according to health ministry officials in the Hamas-run strip.

Witnesses in Rafah said that Israeli tanks had reached the centre of the city by Tuesday morning. Israeli forces pounded the city with airstrikes and tank fire, residents said.

They said the Tel Al-Sultan area in northwest Rafah, the scene of Sunday’s deadly strike, was still being heavily bombarded. “Tank shells are falling everywhere in Tel Al-Sultan. Many families have fled their houses in western Rafah under fire throughout the night,” one resident told Reuters.

Strikes overnight into Tuesday killed a total of 16 people around Tel al-Sultan, according to the Palestinian Civil Defence and the Palestinian Red Crescent. Israel says it is carrying out limited operations in eastern Rafah, along the Gaza-Egypt border. But residents reported heavy bombardment overnight in western parts of Rafah as well.

“It was a night of horror,” said Abdel-Rahman Abu Ismail, a Palestinian from northern Gaza City who has been sheltering in Tel Al-Sultan since December told the Associated Press.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war against Hamas in the city, from where more than one million people have fled in the last three weeks, calling the strike that caused a blaze at a tented area for displaced people a a “tragic mishap”.

“I don’t intend to end the war before every goal has been achieved,” Mr Netanyahu said

Israel’s military initially said it had carried out a precise airstrike on a Hamas compound on Sunday, killing two senior militants. But as details of the strike and fire emerged, the military said it had opened an investigation into the deaths of civilians.

British foreign minister David Cameron demanded a “swift, comprehensive and transparent” investigation by the Israeli army into Rafah strike.

“Deeply distressing scenes following the air strikes in Rafah this weekend,” Mr Cameron said on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday.

Footage of the strike – shared on media – showed extremely graphic scenes of people running to escape the fire surrounding them.

“We pulled out people who were in an unbearable state,” Gaza civilian Mohammed Abuassa told The Associated Press. “We pulled out children… We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal.”

Eklas, 27, who is originally from north Gaza, said: “People died from the fire. People did not know where to run. The fire broke out in the tents. The bodies were burned. I wanted to flee from Rafah to Khan Younis [the largest city in southern Gaza], but I did not have the money for transportation.

“It terrified us all, more than one explosion shook the place. We do not know whether to leave the camp now or whether to stay. We couldn’t sleep last night due to fear, horror, and anxiety.”

Mr Netanyahu, in an address to Israel’s parliament, said on Monday: “Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night there was a tragic mistake… We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy.”

The strike came two days after the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza‘s 2.3 million population had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month. Tens of thousands of people remain in the area while many others have fled. Around one million people have fled the city, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday.

Mr Netanyahu has been under increasing pressure from both the international community and many withing Israel over the offensive in Gaza. It was triggered by a Hamas attack inside Israel during which around 1,200 people were killed and another 250 taken hostage. International clamour for a ceasefire has been growing, while the families of Israeli hostages have repeatedly called for Mr Netanyahu to bring their loved ones home.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says.

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