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Israel faces global outcry over Gaza strike that set tent city ablaze

By AFP - May 28,2024 - Last updated at May 28,2024

A man rushes Palestinian boy Khaled Abu Samaha to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza Strip after he was injured in Israeli bombardment on a house in Nuseirat city on Monday (AFP photo)

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories — Israel faced a wave of international condemnation on Monday over a strike that Gaza officials said killed 45 people when it set off a fire that ripped through a tent city for displaced Palestinians.

Adding to already heightened tensions since Israel launched a ground operation in Rafah in early May, the Israeli and Egyptian militaries reported a "shooting incident" on Monday that killed one Egyptian guard in the border area between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip.

Both forces said they were investigating.

A US National Security Council spokesperson said Israel "must take every precaution possible to protect civilians".

The UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland called on Israel to conduct a "thorough and transparent" investigation into the strike, as the Israeli military said it was launching a probe.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk decried "horrific" images that "point to no apparent change in the methods and means of warfare used by Israel that have already led to so many civilian deaths".

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X that "these operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians".

EU foreign ministers agreed to call a meeting with Israel to get it to explain its actions in its Rafah offensive despite a UN court order to halt it, said the bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell, who called the strike "horrifying".

Relatives of captives held in Gaza, who have increased pressure on Netanyahu's government demanding action to secure a hostage release deal, heckled the premier from the public gallery as he was speaking and raised posters of their loved ones.

Israel launched the attack on Rafah on Sunday evening, hours after Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets at the Tel Aviv area, most of which were intercepted.

Gaza’s civil defence agency said the strike ignited a fire that tore through a displacement centre in north-western Rafah near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs ... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly,” said civil defence agency official Mohammad Al Mughayyir.

“The sky suddenly lit up,” said displaced Palestinian Muhannad, an eyewitness.

One survivor, a woman who declined to be named, said: “We heard a loud sound and there was fire all around us. The children were screaming.”

‘Dangerous violation’

Footage from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic nighttime scenes of paramedics racing to the attack site and evacuating the wounded.

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impacts of Israel’s siege.

“There is a fuel shortage ... there are roads that have been destroyed” as well as “a shortage of water to extinguish fires”, he said.

The Israeli attack sparked strong regional protests from Jordan, mediators Egypt and Qatar as well as from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Egypt deplored the “targeting of defenceless civilians” and labelled it part of “a systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable”.

Jordan accused Israel of “ongoing war crimes”, Saudi Arabia condemned “the continued massacres”, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed “to hold these barbarians and murderers accountable”.

Qatar condemned a “dangerous violation of international law” and voiced “concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts” towards a truce.

The African Union chair Moussa Faki Mahamat also condemned the attack on X saying: “Israel continues to violate international law with impunity and in contempt of an ICJ ruling two days ago ordering an end to its military action in Rafah.”

The top world court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to halt any offensive in Rafah and elsewhere that could bring about “the physical destruction” of the Palestinians.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA which has been central to aid operations in the besieged territory during the war, said on X that “with every day passing, providing assistance & protection becomes nearly impossible”.

“The images from last night are testament to how Rafah has turned into hell on Earth,” he said, with “heavy movement restrictions”, ongoing Israeli strikes and Hamas rocket launches, and other “challenges ... that do not allow us to distribute aid”.

On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland and Norway are due to formally recognise a Palestinian state — a step so far taken by more than 140 UN members but few western powers.

Israel opposes the move and on Monday announced punitive steps against Madrid, ordering its consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering services to Palestinians from June 1.

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