Reports: In Rafah strike, IDF used US bombs designed to reduce casualties

Washington said to have pressed IDF to use 17kg GBU-39 munitions made to reduce casualties; army says hidden arms stash caused fatal blaze; WH still supports limited offensive

Illustrative: US airmen perform a final check of the stowed twin wings on four ground-training Guided Bomb Unit-39 small-diameter bombs loaded on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on Aug. 1, 2006 (US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung) .
Illustrative: US airmen perform a final check of the stowed twin wings on four ground-training Guided Bomb Unit-39 small-diameter bombs loaded on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on Aug. 1, 2006 (US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung) .

The bombs Israel used in Sunday’s strike near Rafah that was blamed for killing dozens of Palestinians were GBU-39s, a small US-manufactured munition designed to limit casualties, according to investigations published Wednesday by CNN and by The New York Times.

Local medics said a blaze following the strike killed dozens of Palestinian civilians at an encampment in Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood. Israel said the strike had targeted two senior Hamas officials, calling the civilian deaths a “tragic mishap.”

Israel faced searing international criticism of the incident, which came on the heels of a World Court ruling against a Rafah operation.

Both CNN and the Times cited Trevor Ball, a former explosive ordinance disposal technician with the United States Army, who had analyzed debris from the bomb visible on local footage, including identification numbers and the tail actuation system, to identify the munitions.

The footage, recorded by Palestinian journalist Alam Sadeq, showed the munition fragments to be emblazoned with a numerical sequence beginning with “81873,” a unique identifier code issued by the US government to Colorado-based aerospace manufacturer Woodward, which supplies parts for the GBU-39 bombs, the Times said.

According to the NYT report, American officials have urged Israel to use GBU-39s instead of larger bombs, as they can help reduce civilian casualties.

The Israel Defense Forces said on Tuesday that it had used two bombs with 17 kilograms (37 pounds) of explosives, the smallest the military’s jets can use — a figure which matches the GBU-39’s specifications, the Times said. According to the IDF, the deadly blaze may have been caused by a hidden munitions stash of which the army was unaware.

“The Israelis have said they used 37-pound bombs,” John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman said at a briefing on Tuesday. “If it is in fact what they used, it is certainly indicative of an effort to be discreet and targeted and precise.”

A screenshot of video filmed by a volunteer of the Palestine Red Crescent Society showing 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. (PRCS/AFP)

The US had previously withheld a shipment of thousands of 2,000- and 1,800-pound bombs from Israel after the country in early May began its Rafah operation over the White House’s opposition.

The larger bombs are often used to target fortified underground tunnels.

Despite the criticism, Israel’s Rafah operation has not passed US President Joe Biden’s “red line” for continued American support of the war, multiple administration officials have said.

The sentiment persisted even after Sunday’s strike, which several US officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, called “tragic.”

An IDF infographic provided on May 28, 2024, about a strike in Rafah two days earlier, which was said to have caused the deaths of dozens of civilians. (IDF)

Pentagon deputy spokesperson Sabrina Singh said during a briefing on Tuesday that the US continues to view the IDF’s activity in Rafah as “limited in scope” and noted that American “security assistance [to Israel] continues to flow.”

Israel claims the Rafah offensive is necessary since Hamas’s remaining battalions are holed up there. The Gaza Strip’s southernmost city may also be where some of the remaining hostages are held, Israel believes.

Israel’s allies have been opposed to large-scale maneuvering in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians flocked after being displaced from the Strip’s north and center, the vast majority of whom have been evacuated, on the military’s orders, to designated safe zones.

Israel pledged to dismantle the Palestinian terror group after thousands of Hamas terrorists attacked the country’s south on October 7, killing nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and taking 252 hostages, amid rampant atrocities. An additional 291 soldiers have been killed during the resultant war in Gaza.

Illustrative: Troops of the Nahal Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout image published May 28, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s response has led to wide-scale suffering in Gaza, displacing over a million people and bringing hunger conditions in the Strip to famine levels, according to United Nations officials.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, of whom some 24,000 have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be independently verified, includes some 15,000 gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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