France's Macron: 'These operations must stop'

‘No longer justifiable’: Israel faces international condemnation for strike in Rafah

Palestinian Authority, Egypt accuse Israel of deliberately targeting civilians at displaced people camp; EU’s Borrell ‘horrified’; Qatar says strike could hinder hostage talks

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on what the IDF said was a Hamas compound, adjacent to a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on what the IDF said was a Hamas compound, adjacent to a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Israel faced fierce international criticism on Monday after an airstrike in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah reportedly killed dozens of people, most of them civilians, in a center for displaced people on Sunday night.

Israel said the strike targeted two senior Hamas terrorists. But the attack also apparently hit an area in the Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood in western Rafah where thousands of people were taking shelter, setting blazes that engulfed several tents and shelters.

By Monday afternoon, the Hamas-run health ministry said that the death toll had risen to 45 and that 60 people were wounded. The figures could not immediately be verified.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the strikes “in the strongest terms” in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday afternoon.

“Horrified by news coming out of Rafah on Israeli strikes killing dozens of displaced persons, including small children,” he wrote.

Borrell also reiterated his demand that Israel halt military action in line with an International Court of Justice order, which, however, is subject to interpretation.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike near where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

“There is no safe place in Gaza. These attacks must stop immediately. ICJ orders [international humanitarian law] must be respected by all parties,” he wrote. “This is really a dilemma how the international community can… force implementation of the decision.”

Israeli officials have said they consider the ICJ order to allow room for some operations in Rafah, rejecting interpretations that the court ruling required a halt to the offensive altogether.

The United Nations’ Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply troubled” by the strike in Rafah.

“I call upon the Israeli authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident, hold those responsible for any wrongdoing to account, and take immediate steps to better protect civilians,” he said in a statement.

The Palestinian Authority’s presidency and Egypt both accused Israel on Monday morning of deliberately targeting the center for displaced people.

“The perpetration of this heinous massacre by the Israeli occupation forces is a challenge to all international legitimacy resolutions,” the PA presidency said in a statement, accusing Israeli forces of “deliberately targeting” the tents of displaced people.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Israel of deliberate “bombardment” of the displaced people center and calling on it to “implement the measures ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning an immediate cessation of military operations” in Rafah.

Footage from a fire that broke out in a camp for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza’s Rafah, following an Israeli strike on what the IDF said was a compound used by Hamas in the area, May 26, 2024. (Social media/X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Hamas said late Sunday that Palestinians must “rise up and march” against the IDF’s “massacre” in Rafah.

“In light of the horrific Zionist massacre this evening committed by the criminal occupation army against the tents of the displaced… we call on the masses of our people in the West Bank, Jerusalem, the occupied territories, and abroad to rise up and march angrily against the ongoing Zionist massacre against our people in the sector,” the Palestinian terror group said in a statement.

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said on Monday that reports from Rafah were “horrifying.”

“Information coming out of Rafah about further attacks on families seeking shelter is horrifying,” UNRWA wrote on X. “There are reports of mass casualties including children and women among those killed. Gaza is hell on earth. Images from last night are yet another testament to that.”

A statement from the Qatari foreign ministry said that the strike could have diplomatic repercussions, and could hinder talks toward a truce and hostage release deal.

Doha voiced “concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts and hinder reaching an agreement for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.”

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah.”

“These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” he posted on X.

Italy said on Monday that Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza were no longer justifiable, in one of the strongest criticisms Rome has made so far against Israel’s campaign.

“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,” Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto told SkyTG24 TV.

“We are watching the situation with despair.”

Saudi Arabia also condemned Israel’s attacks in Rafah, “the latest of which is targeting the tents of displaced Palestinians near the warehouses of UNRWA northwest of Rafah,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would do “everything possible” to hold “barbaric” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to account over deadly strikes in Rafah.

“We will do everything possible to hold these barbarians and murderers accountable who have nothing to do with humanity,” Erdogan said.

The IDF confirmed on Sunday night that it had launched an airstrike on Rafah that evening but said that it had targeted a Hamas compound where senior officials had gathered.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike near a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27, 2024. (Eyad BABA / AFP)

“The attack was carried out against terrorists who are a target for attack, in accordance with international law, using precision munitions, and based on intelligence indicating the use of the area by Hamas terrorists,” the IDF said in a statement on Sunday night.

On Monday, the IDF’s chief lawyer acknowledged that it was a  “very grave” incident and said it would be investigated.

“The details of the incident are still under an investigation, which we are committed to conducting to the fullest extent,” Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi told a conference hosted by the Israel Bar Association on Monday. “The IDF regrets any harm to noncombatants during the war.”

The casualty figures were reported by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, which has not distinguished between terrorists and civilians in its casualty reports throughout the war and has exaggerated numbers in previous cases.

The IDF’s Rafah operation is considered one of the final phases of its war against the Palestinian terror group, which began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

After largely eradicating Hamas battalions in northern and central Gaza, the IDF set its sights on the southern area where it said four battalions remained. However, Israel faced heavy international pressure not to launch the Rafah operation as most displaced people from the north and center had sought refuge in the south.

The IDF launched a smaller-scale operation than originally planned earlier this month, but the ICJ ordered Israel to cease operations in Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there, as a result of a petition filed by South Africa. Israel has said that it would continue the operation as it has no intention of committing genocide in Rafah.

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