Netanyahu: The Deadly Israeli Raid in Rafah was the Result of a "Tragic Mistake"

Israeli Raid in Rafah

Netanyahu: The Deadly Israeli Raid in Rafah was the result of a " Tragic Mistake"

TEL AVIV, Israel (AFP) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a "tragic mistake" was made in an Israeli raid on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians and, according to local officials, caused the death of... At least 45 people.

The raid intensified the growing international criticism Israel faces over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing anger over the killing of civilians. Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world's highest courts, one of which last week called for a halt to the attack in Rafah.

Netanyahu did not explain the error in detail. The Israeli military initially said it carried out a precise airstrike on a Hamas compound, killing two senior activists. As details of the attack and shooting emerged, the army said it had opened an investigation into the killing of civilians.

Sunday night's attack, which appeared to be one of the deadliest of the war, helped bring the total Palestinian death toll in the war to more than 36,000, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in its tally.

"Despite our best efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night a tragic mistake occurred," Netanyahu said Monday in a speech to the Israeli parliament. He added: "We are investigating the incident and will reach a conclusion because this is our policy."

Muhammad Abu Asa, who rushed to the scene of the accident in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood in the northwest of the country, said that rescuers "brought out children, young people, and the elderly who were in pieces."  

The Gaza Ministry of Health and the Palestinian Red Crescent Rescue Service said. The ministry said that among the dead were at least 12 women, eight children, and three older adults, and three other bodies were burned beyond recognition.

In a separate development, the Egyptian army said that 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 conducting an investigation.

A preliminary investigation found that the soldier responded to an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian activists, the state-owned Cairo Channel reported. Egypt warned that the Israeli incursion into Rafah could threaten the peace treaty signed between the two countries decades ago.

The UN Security Council decided to hold a closed emergency session Tuesday afternoon on the situation in Rafah at the request of Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, two council diplomats told The Associated Press before an official announcement was made.

Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, was home to more than a million people - about half of Gaza's population - displaced from other parts of the Strip. Most have fled again since Israel launched what it described as a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are crowded into miserable camps in and around the city.

Elsewhere in Rafah, the director of Kuwait Hospital, one of the last functioning medical centers in the city, said it had been closed and that staff would be moving to a field hospital. Dr. Suhaib Al-Hams said that the decision was taken after two health workers were killed on Monday at the entrance to the hospital.

Netanyahu says Israel must destroy what he says are the last remaining Hamas brigades in Rafah. The armed movement fired a barrage of rockets on Sunday from the city towards the densely populated center of Israel, triggering air raid sirens but causing no casualties.

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

The US National Security Council said in a statement that the "devastating images" of the strike on Rafah were "heartbreaking." He added that the United States is working with the Israeli army and others to assess what happened.

French President Emmanuel Macron was more blunt, saying that "these operations must stop" in a post on the X website. "There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians," he wrote. "I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire."

The German Foreign Ministry, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades, said that "the images of charred bodies, including children, from the airstrike in Rafah are unbearable."

The ministry added: "The exact circumstances must be clarified, and the investigation announced by the Israeli army must come quickly. The civilian population must finally be better protected."

Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the attack on Rafah could "complicate" the talks. The negotiations, which appear to be resuming, have repeatedly faltered due to Hamas' demands for a truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces, conditions that Israeli leaders have publicly rejected.

The Israeli army's chief legal officer, Major General Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi, said that the authorities were studying the raid in Rafah and that the army regretted the loss of civilian lives.

Speaking to a conference of Israeli lawyers, Tomer Yerushalmi said Israel has launched 70 criminal investigations into possible violations of international law, including the deaths of civilians, conditions at a detention facility holding suspected militants, and the deaths of some prisoners in Israeli prisons. Incidents of property crimes and looting are also being examined, she added.

Israel has always maintained that it has an independent judiciary capable of investigating violations and prosecuting their perpetrators. But human rights groups say Israeli authorities routinely fail to investigate acts of violence against Palestinians fully and that even when soldiers are held accountable, punishment is usually light.

Israel denied the allegations of genocide brought against it by South Africa in the Court of Justice International. Last week, the court ordered Israel to stop its attack on Rafah, a ruling that it does not have the authority to implement.

Separately, the ICC prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant, as well as three Hamas leaders, for alleged war-related crimes. The ICC only intervenes when it concludes that the state in question is unable or unwilling to prosecute such crimes properly.

Israel says it is doing its best to adhere to the laws of war. Israeli leaders also say they face an enemy that makes no such commitment.

It is stationed in civilian areas and refuses to release Israeli hostages unconditionally.

Hamas sparked the war with its attack on Israel on October 7, in which Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took about 250 hostages. Hamas is still holding about 100 hostages and the remains of about 30 others after releasing most of the rest during a ceasefire last year.

About 80% of Gaza's population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. Extreme hunger is widespread, and UN officials say parts of the region are suffering from famine.

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