Women and children among 45 Palestinians killed by Israeli strike on Rafah refugee camp

Death toll expected to rise after attack on designated humanitarian safe zone in southern Gaza

A fire rages in the Rafah camp hit by an Israeli air strike. Women and children were among those killed. Reuters
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At least 45 Palestinians were killed in an overnight Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah, two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its operations in the southern Gaza city.

The attack hit a camp for displaced people in north-west Rafah, a site that is in a designated humanitarian safe zone, Gaza civil defence and Palestinian authorities said.

Women and children were among those killed. Several people were injured in the strike.

"We are facing difficulties reaching the wounded," civil defence workers said.

At least 45 Palestinians, including at least 23 women, children and elderly people, were killed in the attack, the Palestinian health ministry said. The death toll came from the health ministry, which also said that 249 people were wounded in the strike.

The toll is expected to rise as search efforts continue in the Tal Al Sultan neighbourhood, about 2km north-west of the city centre, a Palestine Red Crescent Society representative said. It remains to be seen how many of those wounded will receive treatment - particularly for burns - as most health facilities in Gaza are either destroyed or operating at massively reduced capacity.

Camp residents recounted the horror.

"We were sitting and preparing to pray when suddenly shrapnel hit my son’s head and killed him immediately," Umm Mohammed Zidan told The National.

Her daughter was injured in the attack.

"When the shelling started and light was everywhere, everyone around me fled," she said. "I was looking for my son and found him beside me, covered in blood."

"They asked us to leave for a safe place, but then they targeted the safe place. Where should we go?"

The family had fled from Jabalia camp to Deir Al Balah then to the southern city of Rafah.

Following the attack, Rawihi Saeed is planning to leave his tenet, which is close to where the attack took place. However, he has no place to go.

What we witnessed yesterday can't be described," he told The National. "The children were beheaded, and the world is silent. If the photos of the Rafah massacre didn't move the Arab world, then let them continue their sleep."

'Precise strike'

The Israeli military said it carried out a strike on a Hamas compound in Rafah. But it said it was reviewing the incident after reports that the attack caused a fire and that civilians were harmed.

"An [Israeli] aircraft struck a Hamas compound in Rafah in which significant Hamas terrorists were operating," the military said.

"The strike was carried out against legitimate targets under international law, using precise munitions and on the basis of precise intelligence that indicated Hamas's use of the area."

Prior to Israel's ground operation in Rafah, the town hosted as many as 1.3 million Palestinians who were trying to escape fighting elsewhere in the enclave. Rafah had a pre-war population of around 300,000.

The latest bloodshed has added weight to diplomatic statements from countries around the world warning that fighting in such a densely populated area would lead to unacceptable loss of life.

"The images from last night are testament to how Rafah has turned into hell on earth. It has been extremely difficult to establish contact with our UNWRA teams in Rafah today. Some of our staff are unaccounted for," said Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNWRA, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency.

The attack on the camp came after Israel said on Sunday that Hamas fired at least eight rockets towards central areas of the country from Rafah. The rockets were fired towards Tel Aviv, the first time in months that the city had been the target of a Hamas attack.

No injuries or deaths were reported.

Israel began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip after Hamas fighters attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people. About 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since then, health authorities in the enclave said.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 6:21 AM