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27 May 2024

Netanyahu calls Rafah attack ‘tragic mistake’

Israel says it has launched an investigation into civilian deaths, after dozens of displaced Palestinians were killed in an attack on Rafah in southern Gaza, sparking an international outcry.

The strike took place in the Tal al-Sultan camp in western Rafah, where thousands of people were sheltering after Israeli forces began a ground invasion of eastern Rafah three weeks ago.

Residents say Israel told them they would be safe in Rafah’s western areas, although the IDF said the camp is outside the so-called humanitarian zone it declared earlier this month.

The Israeli air strikes hit a small area of prefabricated huts surrounded by desert just after evening prayers. A Hamas official confirmed that two senior commanders targeted by Israel were killed. But there’s no doubt that Palestinian civilians were also among the dead and injured.

Israel claims it used precise munitions and that its intelligence assessment prior to this strike was that what it called uninvolved civilians would not be hurt. But dozens were taken to field hospitals, including children, prompting expressions of outrage from some European leaders, just days after the UN’s top court ordered Israel to stop the violence.

‘What kind of humanity?’

A Palestinian man asked: “What kind of conscience and religion does this? What kind of humanity? Where is the world? Where is the Islamic nation?”

Samuel Johann, emergency co-ordinator in Gaza for the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, said: “During the night, we received a total of 28 people who were dead on arrival and 180 wounded who were then stabilised and referred to the very few remaining medical structures within the area.”

Daylight brought children searching among the charred ruins for anything of any value, because these people have almost nothing. The UN says over 800,000 Palestinians have fled the fighting in the last three weeks alone. The Israelis say this was not a designated area to where civilians could evacuate, though it was certainly close to one, and having been displaced so many times, many dared believe they were at last safe.

“We were displaced to the city of Rafah because they said it was safe,” said a girl. “We were in our tents, ready to sleep, and I was trying to take care of my brother when we heard a big explosion and fire broke out and people started screaming.”

“Yesterday, I pulled out the remains of five children and about three women all in pieces, and none of them could be identified,” said a man. 

‘Tragic mistake’

The scale of what happened has forced Israel’s prime minister into calling this a tragic mistake.

Benjamin Netanyahu said: “In Rafah, we already evacuated about a million non-combatant residents, and despite our utmost efforts not to harm non-combatants, something unfortunately went tragically wrong. We are investigating the incident and will reach conclusions because this is our policy.”

But Palestinians accompanying bodies for burial say the Israelis are liars, and that condemnation from the International Court of Justice is meaningless. The situation in Gaza was described by one aid worker as beyond catastrophic, though it never seems catastrophic enough to force Israel into changing course.