Israel condemned as ‘barbaric’ strike on Rafah refugee camp kills at least 50

At least 50 people have been killed and dozens more injured by an Israeli airstrike on tents for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, according to the Gaza health authorities.

The health ministry said that most of those killed and injured in Rafah were women and children, in an area where thousands of people had been instructed to take shelter in the southern region of the besieged enclave. “Numerous others were trapped in flaming debris,” said officials.

The attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice 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.

Confirming the assault, Israeli military said its air force struck a Hamas compound and that the strike was carried with “precise ammunition and on the basis of precise intelligence”.

It added: “The IDF is aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited several civilians in the area were harmed. The incident is under review.”

Graphic footage from the scene shared by the Gaza health ministry showed widespread destruction. The International Committee of the Red Cross said its field hospital in Rafah was receiving an influx of casualties, and that other hospitals also were taking in a large number of patients.

The airstrike hit an area just 500 metres away from a shelter run by the UN’s agency for Palestinian aid (UNRWA).

Tamara Alrifai, a UNRWA spokesperson, told The Independent: “We have had almost no communication with our team in Gaza, save for a quick patchy one with our international staff. We are all very worried about the safety of our Palestinian colleagues in and around Tal al Sultan. The images coming out are totally horrific, and we are seeing reports of mass causalities, including children and women among those killed.

“The images from last night are testament that Gaza is truly hell on earth, and that no place is safe and no one is safe in Gaza.”

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri described the attack in Rafah as a “massacre”, holding the United States responsible for aiding Israel with weapons and money.

“The air strikes burnt the tents, the tents are melting and the people’s bodies are also melting,” said one of the residents who arrived at the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah.

A spokesperson with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the death toll was likely to rise as search and rescue efforts continued in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood, about 2km northwest of the city centre. It said the target of the strike was part of what Israel had designated as a “humanitarian area” and had not been subject to Israeli evacuation orders earlier this month.

One Palestinian man, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said two members of his family were killed in the airstrike, as well as other people who had moved to the camp from his hometown seeking shelter. “The area was targeted despite being classified as a safe area last Friday by the spokesman of the Israeli army,” he told The Independent.

The charity ActionAid said its activists witnessed the attack, which it described as an “inhumane and barbaric act”. “We are outraged and heartbroken by the recent attacks in West Rafah, where Israeli fighter jets launched eight missiles at makeshift shelters housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) next to UNRWA warehouses stocking vital aid,” the charity said in a statement.

“These shelters were supposed to be safe havens for innocent civilians, yet they became targets of brutal violence. Children, women, and men are being burned alive under their tents and shelters.”

Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli military said eight projectiles were identified crossing from the area of Rafah, the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, setting off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv. There were no reports of casualties in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January.

Israel’s military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from Rafah and “a number” were intercepted, and the launcher was destroyed. Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convening his war cabinet later on Sunday to discuss continued operations in Rafah. Israel argues the UN court’s ruling allows room for some military action there.

In a statement on its Telegram channel, the Hamas al-Qassam Brigades said the rockets were launched in response to “Zionist massacres against civilians”.

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