Deadly attack on Rafa was a tragic accident, Netanyahu says

image caption, Palestinians search for food amid burnt debris in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday’s strike, which killed scores of displaced Palestinians in Rafah, was an “unfortunate accident” as international condemnation of the bombing grew.

At least 45 people were killed, the Hamas-run health ministry said. Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and lacerations.

Speaking in the Israeli parliament, Mr Netanyahu said it was vital that Israel take “all precautionary measures” to protect civilians caught up in the fighting in Gaza.

But he said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had “used their best efforts not to harm those not involved” in the conflict and vowed to continue fighting against Hamas.

  • author, Matt Murphy
  • stock, BBC News
  • Report from London
video title, At the site of Israel’s deadly attack on Rafah

“I don’t want to end the war before every goal is achieved,” Mr Netanyahu said during his speech, which was occasionally interrupted by family members of hostages taken by Hamas during an October 7 attack in southern Israel.

The Prime Minister has come under fire from some family members for failing to sign a deal to get their loved ones back.

“We have already evacuated a million non-combatant residents in Rafah, and despite our best efforts not to harm the non-combatants, unfortunately something went terribly wrong,” Mr Netanyahu continued.

“We are investigating the incident and will come to conclusions as this is our policy.”

International organizations have lined up to condemn the strike, with the European Union urging Israel to respect an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling last week to halt strikes on Rafah. Joseph Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat, called Sunday’s strike “horrific.”

Despite the ICJ ruling, Israel has vowed to continue its offensive on Rafah, with officials insisting the offensive must comply with international law.

Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Volker Dürk said the attack suggested “no apparent change in the methods and methods of warfare used by Israel, which have already led to the deaths of many civilians”.

Israel launched the Rafat attack on Sunday, hours after Hamas launched its first missile attack on Tel Aviv in months.

IDF officials said two senior Hamas commanders were killed in the attack and were investigating civilian deaths in the area.

But a Palestinian Red Cross airstrike hit a UN compound in Tal al-Sultan, 2 km (1.2 miles) northwest of the center of Rafah. It said it targeted tents for displaced people near the facility.

Videos from the scene in Tal al-Sultan area on Sunday night showed a large explosion and heavy fire.

Graphic footage showed several structures burning next to a banner reading “Kuwait Peace Camp ‘1’” and first responders and bystanders carrying several bodies.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Monday that one of its facilities had claimed at least 28 dead, including women and children, following the strike.

In a statement, the organization said it had treated another 180 injured Palestinians, most suffering from severe shrapnel wounds, broken bones, traumatic injuries and burns.

MSF rejected Israeli claims that the strike was accurate, saying that “the attack on the so-called ‘safe zone’ residential camp in Rafah shows a complete disregard for civilian lives in Gaza.”

In a statement on Monday evening, the US called the images “heartbreaking” but insisted that Israel had the right to defend itself.

“Israel has the right to go after Hamas, and we understand that this attack killed two senior Hamas terrorists responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians,” a White House national security spokesman said.

But they agreed that “Israel must take all precautions to protect civilians.”

Israeli officials spent much of Monday scrambling to figure out what went wrong in Rafah. How did a “precision strike” using specialized munitions with “reduced warheads” lead to a firestorm that killed dozens and injured scores?

Following last week’s ICJ ruling ordering Israel to halt any operations in the Rafah area that could further harm the Palestinian people, Israel knows the eyes of the world are on it. It is under great pressure to explain its actions.

It appears that the operation was based on intelligence and that both Hamas figures were killed.

But the presence of large numbers of civilians and the presence of significant amounts of flammable materials raises many questions about how the incident was planned and executed.

With top military officials, including the IDF’s Advocate General Major General Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi, promising a thorough investigation, expect some more detailed explanation soon.

But whether it marks a turning point in the campaign is another matter.

Mr Netanyahu is determined to call it a “total victory” in Rafah, so there is no sign that Sunday’s debacle will change his mind.

Despite the horrific scenes last night, Israeli ground forces appear to be taking a more cautious approach as they approach the town of Rafah.

Their activities have not yet resulted in bloodshed.

But that’s what last night’s airstrikes achieved, dealing yet another blow to Israel’s already tarnished image and undermining its justification for pressure.

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