Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Israeli PM acknowledges 'tragic mistake' after Rafah strike kills dozens of Palestinians

Published:Monday | May 27, 2024 | 1:25 PM
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip on May 27, 2024. -AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi

(AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Monday that a “tragic mistake" was made after an Israeli strike in the Gaza city of Rafah set fire to a tent camp housing displaced Palestinians and killed at least 45 people.

The mistake only added to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths.

Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world's top courts, one of which last week demanded that it halt the offensive in Rafah.

Israel's military had earlier said that it launched an investigation into civilian deaths after it struck a Hamas installation and killed two senior militants.

At least 45 people were killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. The ministry said the dead included at least 12 women, eight children and three older adults, with another three bodies burned beyond recognition.

Sunday night's attack, which appeared to be one of the war's deadliest, helped push the overall Palestinian death toll in the war above 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and noncombatants in its tally.

“Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night, there was a tragic mistake,” Netanyahu said Monday in an address to Israel's parliament. “We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy.”

Mohammed Abuassa, who rushed to the scene in the northwestern neighborhood of Tel al-Sultan, said rescuers “pulled out people who were in an unbearable state.”

“We pulled out children who were in pieces. We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal,” he said.

In a separate development, Egypt's military said one of its soldiers was shot dead during an exchange of fire in the Rafah area, without providing further details. Israel said it was in contact with Egyptian authorities, and both sides said they were investigating.

Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt, had housed more than a million people — about half of Gaza's population — displaced from other parts of the territory. Most have fled once again since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are packed into squalid tent camps in and around the city.

Netanyahu says Israel must destroy what he calls Hamas' last remaining battalions in Rafah. The militant group launched a barrage of rockets Sunday from the city toward heavily populated central Israel, setting off air raid sirens but causing no injuries.

The strike on Rafah brought a new wave of condemnation, even from Israel's strongest supporters.

The US National Security Council said in a statement that the “devastating images” from the strike on Rafah “are heartbreaking.” It said the U.S. was working with the Israeli military and others to assess what happened.

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