IDF says it targeted Hamas as Palestinians claim 45 dead in strike on Gaza’s Rafah

Army says it killed 2 commanders behind West Bank terror via precise airstrikes that adhered to international law; Hamas, PA cast it as ‘massacre’ of displaced civilians

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)
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)

Israeli airstrikes near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday night drew outraged reactions from Palestinians, with Hamas health authorities claiming that 45 were killed and dozens injured in the attack and in an ensuing blaze in a camp housing displaced civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had targeted a Hamas compound and eliminated two commanders in the terror group’s ranks, and that it was looking into accounts of casualties among civilians.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said the strikes were carried out over “displaced persons’ tents near the United Nations headquarters northwest of Rafah,” asserting that the location was designated as a humanitarian zone by Israel. A spokesperson for the organization said the death toll was likely to rise. The Hamas-run health ministry claimed that most of the casualties were women and children.

By Monday afternoon, the ministry said the death toll had risen to 45.

The IDF said it had struck a Hamas compound in the Tel Sultan area of northwestern Rafah where senior officials in the terror group were gathered, adding in a statement that “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 military said it was aware of reports that the strike and a fire that spread into a camp for displaced Palestinians had caused casualties among civilians, adding that the incident was under further investigation.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike near a camp area housing internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27, 2024. the Israeli army said it had targeted 2 top Hamas terrorists. (Eyad BABA / AFP)

In a later statement, the military said the strike had killed Yassin Rabia, the commander of Hamas’s so-called West Bank headquarters — a Hamas unit charged with advancing attacks against Israel from or in the West Bank — as well as Khaled Najjar, another senior member of the unit.

(Left) Yassin Rabia, the commander of Hamas’s so-called West Bank headquarters; (right) Khaled Najjar, another senior member of the unit.

Rabia, according to the IDF, “managed all of the military arrays of the West Bank headquarters… was involved in the transfer of funds for terror purposes and directed attacks by Hamas operatives” in the West Bank.

The IDF also said that Rabia had committed several deadly attacks himself, in 2001 and 2002, killing Israeli soldiers.


Najjar was involved in directing shooting attacks and other terror activities in the West Bank, and was also involved in funneling funds to Hamas operatives, the military said.

Najjar also carried out several attacks between 2001 and 2003, according to the IDF, killing civilians and killing and wounding soldiers.

Officials from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority reacted with fury to the strike, casting it as a deliberate attack on displaced, defenseless civilians.

“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,” Hamas said in a statement.

Tent encampments housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 11, 2024. (AFP)

Meanwhile, the West Bank-based office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the strike a “heinous massacre,” accusing Israeli forces of “deliberately targeting” the tents of displaced people.

US President Joe Biden’s administration said it was following the situation.

“We’re aware of the reports about the incident in Rafah and are gathering more information,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told The Times of Israel.

The strike came hours after Hamas fired a barrage of eight long-range projectiles at central Israel, in the first such attack in four months. The IDF said later Sunday that it had destroyed the rocket launcher used in the attack.

Iron Dome interceptor missiles are seen intercepting rockets over central Israel, May 26, 2024 (Screenshot: X)

The military also announced the deaths of two soldiers during fighting in Gaza on Sunday, as it continued major military operations in the northern Strip’s Jabaliya as well as in Rafah. This brought the death toll of the ground offensive against Hamas and operations along the border to 288. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

The IDF operation in Rafah, which the military asserts is Hamas’s last major stronghold, has fueled further international criticism of Israel over the war in Gaza, with the International Court of Justice issuing a significant but ambiguously worded ruling instructing Israel to stop military activities that could result in the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

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

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, and have entered some of its eastern districts, residents say, but have not yet entered the city in force since the start of operations in the city earlier this month.

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in an image cleared for publication on May 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

War broke out on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israeli communities and army positions, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, taking 252 hostages and committing other atrocities.

Israel’s government has vowed to destroy the group to keep it from being able to launch such an assault ever again and to recover the hostages, 121 of whom are still held in Gaza, along with two civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held there for nearly a decade.

The ensuing military campaign has killed over 35,000 Gazans, according to the Strip’s Hamas-run health authorities, whose numbers cannot be verified, and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed some 15,000 Palestinian fighters in battle, as well as some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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