Israel widely condemned, including by allies, for airstrike killing 45 at Rafah tent camp

Israel widely condemned, including by allies, for airstrike killing 45 at Rafah tent camp

An Israeli airstrike triggered a massive blaze killing 45 people in a tent camp in the Gaza city of Rafah, officials said on Monday, prompting an outcry from global leaders who urged the implementation of an International Court of Justice ruling to halt Israel's assault.

In scenes grimly familiar from a war in its eighth month, Palestinian families rushed to hospitals to prepare their dead for burial after the strike late on Sunday night set tents and rickety shelters ablaze.

Women wept and men held prayers beside bodies in shrouds.

"The whole world is witnessing Rafah getting burnt up by Israel and no one is doing anything to stop it," Bassam, a Rafah resident, said via a chat app, of the strike in an area of western Rafah that had been designated a safe zone.

A crowd of people, adults and children, stand outside in an area filled with debris on the ground as one cleanshaven man carries belongings several feet away.
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, on Monday. (Jehad Alshrafi/The Associated Press)

Israeli tanks continued to bombard eastern and central areas of the city in southern Gaza on Monday, killing eight, local health officials said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was "outraged" over Israel's latest attacks.

"These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians," he said on X.

Italy offered one of its strongest criticisms against the military campaign in Gaza.

"There is an increasingly difficult situation, in which the Palestinian people are being squeezed without regard for the rights of innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with Hamas, and this can no longer be justified," Defence Minister Guido Crosetto told SkyTG24 TV.

"We are watching the situation with despair."

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Friday must be respected.

"International humanitarian law applies for all, also for Israel's conduct of the war," Baerbock said.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's health ministry says, though its totals do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

Israel launched the operation after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel to probe airstrike

Israel's military said that Sunday's air attack, based on "precise intelligence," had eliminated militant group Hamas's chief of staff for the second and larger Palestinian territory, the West Bank, plus another official behind attacks on Israelis.

Earlier on Sunday, it had said eight rockets were intercepted after being fired from the Rafah area. A minister said this showed the need for continued operations against Hamas.

Two men and a women are shown walking on a sandy area while carrying items.
Palestinians on Monday prepare to flee Rafah following an Israeli strike on an area designated for the displaced. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Israel's top military prosecutor, however, called the airstrike "very grave" and said an investigation was underway.

"The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] regrets any harm to non-combatants during the war," Maj.-Gen. Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi said at a conference on Monday.

The attack took place in the Tel Al-Sultan neighbourhood, where thousands were sheltering after Israeli forces began a ground offensive in the east of Rafah more than 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 as more people caught in the blaze were in critical condition with severe burns.

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'Their children have been orphaned'

By daylight, the camp was a smoking wreckage of tents, twisted metal and charred belongings.

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. His brother, sister-in-law and several other relatives were killed in the blaze.

"The army is a liar. There is no security in Gaza. There is no security, not for a child, an elderly man or a woman. Here he [my brother] is with his wife, they were martyred," he said.

"What have they done to deserve this? Their children have been orphaned."

Hospitals in Rafah, including the International Committee of the Red Cross field hospital, were unable to handle all the wounded, so some were moved to hospitals in Khan Younis further north in Gaza for treatment, medics said.

"Gaza is hell on earth," UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, wrote on X.

Israel stalking Hamas fighters

Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area.

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, since May 6 and have entered some of its eastern districts.

WATCH l Trudeau on what's vitally needed in Gaza:

PM says there should be 'no more' Israeli military operations in Rafah

3 days ago

Duration 2:29

Speaking after the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel should halt military operations in the southern Gaza community of Rafah, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there should be no escalation in the area by Israel and called for immediate access to more aid.

But it faces global condemnation for failing to spare civilian lives.

"On top of the hunger, on top of the starvation, the refusal to allow aid in sufficient volumes, what we witnessed last night is barbaric," Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia also condemned the Israeli attack, while Qatar said it could hinder efforts to mediate a ceasefire and hostage exchange.

After Friday's ICJ ruling, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was important there not be any "escalation of military operations in Rafah," while stressing the need for much more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza to stave off starvation and famine.

The United States, the biggest supplier of military weaponry to Israel, has not officially commented on the ICJ ruling or the weekend's deadly Rafah airstrike.