Faced with Global Outrage, Netanyahu Calls Civilian Deaths in Rafah Strike ‘Tragic Accident’

Facing growing international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Monday that the killing of dozens of people a day earlier at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah was “a tragic accident.” , but there are no signs of restraining Israel’s attack in this area. southern city of Gaza.

The deadly fire that tore through the camp on Sunday after an airstrike came at a particularly sensitive time for Israel, just days after the International Court of Justice appeared to order its military halted the offensive in Rafah and as diplomats were aiming to restart negotiations. about the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli military said the target of Sunday’s attack in Rafah was a Hamas compound and that “precision munitions” were used to target a commander and another senior militant official there. .

However, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, at least 45 people, including children, were killed by the explosion and the fire it caused. The ministry said 249 people were injured.

In a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said the military had sought to protect non-combatants by issuing evacuation orders, adding that about a million civilians had left Rafah before or during attack. “Despite our utmost efforts not to harm unrelated civilians, a tragic accident occurred that we deeply regret last night,” he said.

He accused Hamas of hiding among the population and said: “For us, every unrelated civilian who is hurt is a tragedy. For Hamas it is a strategy. That’s the whole difference.”

As images of the dead and maimed appeared on screens around the world, condemnation was immediate. The latest criticism appears to make it more difficult for Israel to continue its campaign against Hamas in Rafah, the southern city where about a million Gazans have fled.

On Monday, an ally of Israel, President Emmanuel Macron of France, said he was “outraged” by the airstrikes in Rafah and declared that they “must stop.” He called for “full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.”

The Israeli government, which invaded the Gaza Strip after a Hamas-led offensive that has since killed about 1,200 people in Israel, argues that it has no choice but to enter Rafah if it wants to destroy the rebels. . Israelis say the city is the stronghold from which Hamas militants earlier on Sunday fired rockets deep into central Israel for the first time in months.

But with Rafah harboring displaced Gazans forced into the city by earlier fighting in the north, world leaders have warned of the dangers of a major military operation there .

Sunday’s deaths appear to be exactly what those urging Israel to tread carefully were worried about.

Bilal al-Sapti, 30, a construction worker in Rafah, said he saw charred bodies in the ruins of the camp and heard people screaming as firefighters tried to put out the fire. “The fire was very strong and spread throughout the camp,” he said.

Dr. Marwan al-Hams, who was at Tal Al Sultan Medical Center where many of the casualties first arrived, said that the majority of the dead and injured he had seen were women and children. . “Many of the bodies were severely burned, had limbs amputated and were torn to pieces,” he said.

Hamas, in a statement, described Israel’s attack on Rafah as “a terrible war crime” and demanded “immediate and urgent implementation” of the World Court’s decision. The group did not mention the Israeli military’s assertion that two Hamas officials were killed in the attack.

The Israeli military said it took several steps before the attack to reduce the risk of harm to civilians, including conducting aerial surveillance and using munitions considered accurate. “Based on these measures, it is assessed that there will be no harm to unrelated civilians,” it said.

But an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said Monday that the military’s initial investigation had concluded that the attack or shrapnel from it may have accidentally ignited a flammable substance at the camp. Witnesses described intense fires following the attack.

Military drone footage of the attack reviewed by The New York Times showed the projectile striking an area filled with large cabin-like structures and parked cars.

Two Israeli officials said the attack took place outside a designated humanitarian zone intended to provide safe shelter for evacuees. Officials created a map shows what it says is the location of the strike in relation to the area.

The military identified the two targets of the attack as the commander of the Hamas leadership in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Yassin Rabi, and a senior official in the same faction of the group, Khaled Nagar.

In a vaguely worded order, the International Court of Justice, a United Nations body that is hearing arguments regarding allegations that Israel committed genocide in Gaza, called on Israel to stop immediately any action in Rafah “could cause harm to the Palestinians”. group in Gaza whose living conditions will lead to total or partial physical destruction.”

Israeli officials argued that the 13-2 ruling allowed the country to continue fighting in Rafah because it would not cause such genocide. But some of Israel’s allies don’t see the order that way. Even before the latest civilian deaths, Germany’s deputy chancellor, Robert Habeck, said the attack in Rafah was “not in accordance with international law.”

Late Sunday, Israel’s war cabinet met to discuss continued efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement to release hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack, according to an official Israel is anonymous because of sensitivity. of negotiations.

Diplomats are for restart purposes Three officials briefed on the process said negotiations would take place at some point next week. According to officials, preliminary discussions have been held is held this weekend in Paris.

Report contributed by Hiba Yazbek, Abu Bakr Bashir, Iyad Abuheweila, Patrick Kingsley, Myra Noveck And Johnatan Reiss.


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