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Israeli airstrikes kill at least 35 in Rafah

By Reuters

Published : May 27, 2024 - 15:30

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Fire rages following an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in this still picture taken from a video, Sunday. (Reuters) Fire rages following an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in this still picture taken from a video, Sunday. (Reuters)

Israeli air strikes killed at least 35 Palestinians and wounded dozens in an area in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah designated for the displaced, Palestinian health and civil emergency service officials said.

The Israeli military said its air force struck a Hamas compound in Rafah and that the strike was carried out with "precise ammunition and on the basis of precise intelligence."

It took out Hamas' chief of staff for the West Bank and another senior official behind deadly attacks on Israelis, it said.

"The IDF is aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited, several civilians in the area were harmed. The incident is under review," it continued.

The spokesperson for Gaza's Health Ministry, Ashraf Al-Qidra, said 35 people were killed and dozens others, most of them women and children, were wounded in the attack.

The strike took place in the Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood in western Rafah, where thousands of people were taking shelter after many fled the eastern areas of the city where Israeli forces began a ground offensive over two weeks ago.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its field hospital in Rafah was receiving an influx of casualties, and that other hospitals also were taking in a large number of patients.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri described the attack in Rafah as a "massacre," holding the United States responsible for aiding Israel with weapons and money.

"The airstrikes burnt the tents, the tents are melting and the people's bodies are also melting," said one of the residents who arrived at the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah.

Earlier Sunday, the Israeli military said eight projectiles were identified crossing from the area of Rafah, the southern tip of the Gaza Strip where Israel kept up operations despite a ruling by the top UN court on Friday ordering it to stop attacking the city.

A number of the projectiles were intercepted, it said. There were no reports of casualties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convening his war cabinet later Sunday to discuss continued operations in Rafah. Israel argues that the UN court's ruling allows room for some military action there.

In a statement on its Telegram channel, the Hamas al-Qassam Brigades said the rockets were launched in response to "Zionist massacres against civilians."

Rafah is located about 100 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.

Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area, but its assault has worsened the plight of civilians and caused an international outcry.

On Sunday, Israeli strikes killed at least five Palestinians in Rafah, according to local medical services. The Gaza Health Ministry identified the dead as civilians.

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, and have entered some of its eastern districts, residents say, but have not yet entered the city in force since the start of operations in the city earlier this month.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said the rockets fired from Rafah "prove that the (Israel Defense Forces) must operate in every place Hamas still operates from."

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant held an operational assessment in Rafah where he was briefed on "troops’ operations above and below the ground, as well as the deepening of operations in additional areas with the aim of dismantling Hamas battalions," his office said in a statement.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a hard-line public security minister who is not part of Israel's war cabinet, urged the army to hit Rafah harder. "Rafah with full force," he posted on social platform X.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's Health Ministry says. Israel launched the operation after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Fighting also continued in the northern Gaza area of Jabaliya, the scene of intense combat earlier in the war. During one raid, the military said it found a weapons storage site with dozens of rocket parts and weapons at a school.

It denied Hamas statements that Palestinian fighters had abducted an Israeli soldier.

Hamas media said an Israeli airstrike on a house in a neighborhood near Jabaliya killed 10 people and wounded others.

Efforts to agree a halt to the fighting and return more than 120 hostages have been blocked for weeks but there were some signs of movement this weekend following meetings between Israeli and US intelligence officials and Qatar's prime minister.

An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks this week based on new proposals from Egyptian and Qatari mediators, and with "active US involvement."

However, a Hamas official played down the report, telling Reuters: "It is not true."

Netanyahu's war cabinet would discuss the new proposals, his office said.

A second Hamas official, Izzat El-Reshiq, said the group had not received anything from the mediators on new dates for resuming talks as had been reported by Israeli media.

Reshiq restated Hamas's demands, which include: "Ending the aggression completely and permanently, in all of Gaza Strip, not only Rafah."

While Israel is seeking the return of hostages, Netanyahu has repeatedly said the war will not end until Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, is eliminated. (Reuters)