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Israeli strikes kill at least 37 Palestinians near Rafah in Gaza

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli shelling and airstrikes have killed at least 37 people, most of whom were sheltering in tents, outside the southern city of Gaza. Rafa overnight and on Tuesday — storming the same area where strikes days earlier sparked a deadly fire at a camp for displaced Palestinians — according to witnesses, aid workers and hospital officials.

The tent camp inferno has sparked widespread international outrage, including from some of Israel’s closest allies, over the army’s expanding offensive against Rafah. And in a sign of Israel’s growing isolation on the world stage, formally Spain, Norway and Ireland recognized a Palestinian state on Tuesday.

The Israeli military suggested that Sunday’s fire at the tent camp may have been caused by secondary explosions, possibly by Palestinian militants’ weapons. The results of Israel’s initial investigation into the fire were announced on Tuesday, with military spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari saying the cause of the fire was still under investigation, but that Israeli ammunition was used – targeting what the military said was a position at two senior Hamas leaders. militants – were too small to be the source.

The strike or subsequent fire may also have ignited fuel, cooking gas cylinders or other materials in the camp. The fire killed 45 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials’ count. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fire was the result of a “tragic accident.”

Israel’s attack on Rafah, launched on May 6, has prompted more than 1 million people to flee the city, the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday. Most had been displaced several times in almost eight months war between Israel and Hamas. Families are now scattered improvised tent camps and other war-ravaged areas.

The attacks in recent days have hit areas west of Rafah where the army had not ordered civilians to evacuate. Israeli ground forces and tanks have been active in eastern Rafah, in central parts of the city and along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Shelling late Monday and early Tuesday hit Rafah’s western Tel al-Sultan district, killing at least 16 people, the Palestinian Civil Defense and Palestinian Red Crescent said. Seven of the dead were in tents next to a UN facility about 200 meters from the site of Sunday’s fire.

“It was a night of horror,” said Abdel-Rahman Abu Ismail, a Palestinian from Gaza City who has been sheltering in Tel al-Sultan since December. He said he heard “constant noises” of explosions overnight and into Tuesday as fighter jets and drones flew overhead.

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, next to a UNRWA facility west of the city of Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, next to a UNRWA facility west of the city of Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

He said it reminded him of the Israeli invasion of his Shijaiyah neighborhood in Gaza City, where Israel launched a heavy bombing campaign before sending ground troops in late 2023. “We’ve seen this before,” he said.

The United States and other Israel allies have warned of a full-fledged offensive in the city, with the Biden administration saying this would cross a “red line” and refusing to make assault weapons available for such an undertaking. On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller gave no indication that the administration believes Israel is crossing red lines on Rafah. He said the offensive is still on a “very different” scale than attacks on other population centers in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice ordered this Israel stops its Rafah offensive last week as part of the South African case in which Israel was accused of commit genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Algeria drafted a new UN Security Council resolution on Tuesday to stop fighting in Rafah, with plans to put it to a vote possibly this week. The US has vetoed several ceasefire resolutions in Gaza.

On Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli drone strike hit tents near a field hospital on the Mediterranean coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people, including 13 women, Gaza’s health ministry said.

A witness, Ahmed Nassar, said his four cousins ​​and some of their spouses and children were killed during the strike and that a number of tents were destroyed or damaged. Most of the people living there had fled from the same neighborhood in Gaza City earlier in the war.

“They have nothing to do with it,” he said.

Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead in Rafah, saying Israeli forces must enter the city to dismantle Hamas and return captured hostages. the October 7 attack that caused the war.

In its investigation into Sunday’s deadly attack and fire, the Israeli military released satellite photos of what it said was the Hamas rocket launch position, about 40 meters from an area of ​​sheds that was targeted. In the photo, the alleged launch vehicle itself did not appear to be hit.

He said Israeli warplanes used the smallest bombs possible: two munitions with 17-kilogram nuclear warheads. “Our ammunition alone could not have ignited a fire of this magnitude,” he said.

Hagari said the fire was “a devastating incident that we did not expect” and ignited due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

Still, the strikes have led to a flight of people from areas west of Rafah. Sayed al-Masri, a resident of Rafah, said many families were heading to the busy Muwasi area or to Khan Younis, a town in the south. that suffered heavy damage during months of struggle.

“The situation is deteriorating” in Rafah, al-Masri said.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said two medical facilities in Tel al-Sultan are out of service due to heavy bombing nearby. Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity that operates across the territory, said the Tel al-Sultan medical center and Indonesian field hospital had been locked down with medics, patients and displaced people trapped inside.

Most of Gaza hospitals no longer function. The Kuwait Hospital in Rafah was closed on Monday after a strike at the entrance left two health workers dead.

A World Health Organization spokesman said victims of Sunday’s strike and fire have been “absolutely overwhelmed” by field hospitals in the area, which were already short of supplies to treat severe burns.

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, next to a UNRWA facility west of the city of Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, next to a UNRWA facility west of the city of Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

“That requires intensive care, that requires electricity, that requires high-level medical services,” Dr. Margaret Harris to reporters in Geneva. “We are increasingly struggling to even have highly qualified doctors and nurses because they have been displaced.”

The war began when Hamas and other militants overran southern Israel on October 7 in a surprise attack, killing about 1,200 civilians and kidnapping about 250. More than 100 were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November in exchange for Palestinians jailed by Israel. .

Israel responded to the attack with a massive air, land and sea offensive that killed at least 36,096 Palestinians. Gaza’s Ministry of Health, which makes no distinction between combatants and civilians in its count. About 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced, according to UN officials parts of the territory are struggling with famine.

The fighting in Rafah has made it virtually impossible for humanitarian groups to import and distribute aid to southern Gaza.

The Israeli army says it has allowed hundreds of trucks through the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing since the start of its operation, but aid groups say the fighting makes it extremely difficult to access that aid on the Gaza side.

The UN says it has only been able to raise aid from about 170 trucks through Kerem Shalom in the past three weeks. Smaller amounts of aid arrive through two border crossings in the north and through the sea a US-built floating pierbut it does not come close to the 600 trucks per day that aid organizations say are needed.

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Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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