Israeli tanks reach Rafah centre as city comes under heavy shelling

UN Security Council set to meet for an emergency session on attacks on the southern Gaza city

Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Israeli tanks reached the heart of Rafah on Tuesday amid international outrage over the killing of civilians in Israel's heavy bombardment of the southern Gazan city.

Witnesses including a Palestinian security source told AFP that Israeli tanks were “stationed on Al Awda roundabout in the centre of the city of Rafah.” The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the Rafah area, without commenting on reported advances.

Israel launched an assault on Rafah three weeks ago and has since been shelling the city as ground forces move in from the east.

Israeli troops are now estimated to occupy 60 per cent of the city, including the hill that overlooks the border with Egypt, according to the BBC.

Scores of civilians have been killed over the past days as Israeli forces bombard the city and surrounding areas.

At least 21 Palestinians were killed and more than 64 wounded in the latest Israeli strikes on an area of tents housing displaced people to the west of Rafah on Tuesday, the city's civil service official, Mohammed Al Mughayyir told The National.

A further 25 people were killed by Israeli strikes overnight on Monday, Mr Al Mughayyir said, a day after strikes on a camp for displaced Gazans left 45 dead.

Sunday's strike sparked a global outcry and prompted the UN Security Council to schedule an emergency session, called for by Algeria, later on Tuesday.

Palestinian authorities reported that at least 45 civilians were killed after Israeli strikes on Sunday night hit the Tal Al Sutan area west of Rafah, which Israel has designated as a “safe zone” for civilians. The strikes reportedly sparked a blaze that ripped through the camp. Many of those killed were women and children.

Israel's military has announced an investigation into the attack. It said its aircraft “struck a Hamas compound in Rafah” on Sunday and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, senior officials from the militant group in the occupied West Bank.

Israel launched the strikes hours after Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets at the Tel Aviv area, most of which were intercepted. No injuries or deaths were reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the strike on the camp as a “tragic mistake” but said, “I don’t intend to end the war before every goal has been achieved.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack that “killed scores of innocent civilians who were only seeking shelter from this deadly conflict”.

“There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop,” Mr Guterres said.

Other UN officials called for an investigation into what happened in the camp.

Israel's allies, including the US, had repeatedly warned that a military operation against Rafah could exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the city, where 1.5 million people had been sheltering before the launch of the operation in early May.

Mr Netanyahu dismissed these warnings and insisted that Israel would destroy Hamas, which it says has four battalions in the city.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said that about a million people fled Rafah since the operation began.

“This happened with nowhere safe to go and amidst bombardments, lack of food and water, piles of waste and unsuitable living conditions,” the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said on X. “Day after day, providing assistance and protection becomes nearly impossible.”

Israel is facing growing international criticism over its conduct in Gaza, where more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began in October.

On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland and Norway will formally recognise a Palestinian state. In response, Israel announced on Monday punitive steps against Madrid, ordering its consulate in Jerusalem to stop offering services to Palestinians from June 1.

This month, 143 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly voted in favour of Palestine joining the UN.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 3:40 PM