Israel’s deadly strike on Rafah a ‘tragic mishap’, says Nethanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the strike that killed numerous displaced Palestinians in Rafah on Sunday a “tragic mishap,” amidst mounting international condemnation.

The Hamas-run health ministry reported at least 45 deaths. Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures, and shrapnel wounds.

Addressing the Israeli parliament, Mr. Netanyahu emphasized the importance of Israel taking “every precaution possible” to protect civilians in Gaza. However, he asserted that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made their “best efforts not to harm those uninvolved” in the conflict and vowed to continue fighting Hamas.

“I don’t intend to end the war before every goal has been achieved,” Mr. Netanyahu stated, despite interruptions from family members of hostages taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack in southern Israel.

Some family members have criticized the prime minister for not securing the return of their loved ones.

“In Rafah, we already evacuated about one million non-combatant residents, and despite our utmost effort not to harm non-combatants, something unfortunately went tragically wrong,” Mr. Netanyahu continued. “We are investigating the incident and will reach conclusions because this is our policy.”

International organizations have condemned the strike. The EU urged Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling to halt strikes on Rafah. The bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, described Sunday’s strike as “horrifying.”

Despite the ICJ ruling, Israel has vowed to continue its invasion of Rafah, arguing that the ruling allowed for the attack to comply with international law.

The UN’s human rights chief, Volker Turk, stated that the attack indicated “no apparent change in the methods and means of warfare used by Israel” that have already caused numerous civilian deaths.

Israel launched the Rafah attack hours after Hamas’s first missile attack on Tel Aviv in several months.

IDF officials reported the deaths of two senior Hamas commanders and stated they were investigating the civilian casualties.

However, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported the air strike targeted tents for displaced people near a UN facility in Tal al-Sultan, 2 km northwest of Rafah’s center.

Videos from the scene showed a large explosion and intense fires. Graphic footage depicted structures ablaze next to a banner reading “Kuwaiti Peace Camp ‘1’,” as first responders and bystanders carried bodies.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that one of its facilities received at least 28 dead individuals, including women and children. They treated 180 wounded Palestinians, primarily for shrapnel wounds, fractures, traumatic injuries, and burns.

MSF rejected Israeli claims of a precise strike, stating the attack on a populated camp in a “safe zone” demonstrated a disregard for civilian lives in Gaza.

In a Monday evening statement, the US called the images “heartbreaking” but reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. A White House national security spokesperson said, “Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians.” However, they acknowledged, “Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”

Israeli officials spent Monday investigating what went wrong in Rafah. They questioned how a “precision strike” with “reduced warheads” led to such a deadly firestorm.

Following the ICJ’s order for Israel to halt operations in Rafah that might harm the Palestinian population, Israel faces significant global scrutiny. It claims the operation was intelligence-based, confirming the deaths of two Hamas figures. However, the presence of numerous civilians and flammable materials raises questions about the planning and execution of the incident.

With top military officials, including Maj Gen Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi, the IDF’s advocate general, promising a thorough investigation, a detailed explanation is expected soon.

Whether this incident marks a turning point in the campaign remains uncertain. Mr. Netanyahu remains committed to “total victory” in Rafah, showing no signs of changing his strategy despite the recent tragedy. Israeli ground forces continue their cautious advance towards Rafah, aiming to avoid a bloodbath, though last night’s air strike already resulted in significant civilian casualties, further damaging Israel’s international image and rationale for continuing the conflict.

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