Survivors say most of dead are women, children, and elderly

CAIRO/GAZA/JERUSALEM:

An Israeli airstrike triggered a fire that killed 45 people in a tent camp in the Gazan city of Rafah, officials said on Monday, prompting an outcry from global leaders, who called for the implementation of a World Court order to halt Israel’s assault.

Palestinian families rushed to hospitals to prepare their dead for burial after the strike late on Sunday night set tents and rickety metal shelters ablaze. Israel admitted that a strike it carried out against commanders of a militant group in Rafah had caused the fire.

Survivors said families were preparing to sleep when the strike hit the Tel Al-Sultan neighbourhood where thousands were sheltering after Israeli forces began a ground offensive in the east of Rafah over two weeks ago.

More than half of the dead were women, children, and elderly people, health officials in Hamas-run Gaza said, adding that the death toll was likely to rise from people with severe burns. Video footage obtained by Reuters showed a fire raging in the darkness and people were screaming in panic.

Israel’s military said that the strike had eliminated Hamas’ chief of staff for the second and larger Palestinian territory, the West Bank, plus another official behind deadly attacks on the Israelis. That followed the interception of eight rockets fired towards Israel from the Rafah area.

Israel has kept up its offensive despite a ruling by the top UN court on Friday ordering it to stop, saying that the court’s ruling grants it some scope for military action there. The court also reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.

The strike created a global outcry with EU foreign ministers calling a meeting with Israel to get it to explain its actions despite the UN court ruling. “We got the necessary unanimity to call for an association council with Israel to discuss the situation in Gaza,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Borrell called the strike “horrifying” and said” “It proves that there is no safe place in Gaza.” The meeting with Israel would be held under an association agreement with the EU. Spain and Ireland have called on the EU to review the agreement over Israel’s Gaza offensive.

 

 

EU foreign ministers also held talks with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar as part of a diplomatic push for a two-state solution, which gained momentum last week when Ireland, Spain and Norway said they would recognise a Palestinian state.

EU ministers would also discuss re-launch of a mission suspended back in 2007 to monitor the crossing after calls from Israel and other states in the region. Borrell said he had received preliminary approval from ministers to plan for the mission.

The UN human rights chief voiced “horror” at a deadly Israeli strike and demanded accountability. “The images from the camp are horrific and point to no apparent change in the methods and means of warfare used by Israel that have already led to so many civilian deaths,” Volker Turk said in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged” over Israel’s latest attacks. “These operations must stop,” he said on X. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: “International humanitarian law applied for all, also for Israel’s conduct of the war.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE also condemned the Israeli attack on the Al Hashash area in Rafah, and Qatar said the strike could hinder efforts to mediate a ceasefire and hostage exchange. Egypt’s military said that a border guard was killed in a shooting in the border area.

The United States urged Israel to take every precaution to protect civilians. “We are actively engaging the IDF and partners on the ground to assess what happened, and understand that the IDF is conducting an investigation,” a National Security Council spokesperson said.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people. The attackers also took 252 hostages. Some 121 still remain in Gaza, including 37 the army said, were dead. Israel’s retaliatory offensive killed at least 36,050 people in Gaza.

By daylight, the camp in Rafah was a smoking wreckage of tents, twisted metal and charred belongings. Women wept and men held prayers beside bodies in shrouds. Sitting beside bodies of his relatives, Abed Mohammed Al-Attar said Israel lied when it told residents they would be safe in Rafah’s western areas.

Elsewhere in the battered territory, Israeli tanks stepped up the intensity of bombardments of eastern and central areas of Rafah, killing at least eight, local health officials said. Two medical workers were killed by a missile fired from a drone in Rafah. In Al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza Strip, an Israeli attack killed three Palestinian police officers, Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said.

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