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    Israel airstrike in Rafah kills dozens as Netanyahu admits "tragic mishap"

    By CBS/AP,


    Dozens killed in Israeli strike on camp for displaced Palestinians 02:27

    At least 45 people were killed in airstrikes in the southern Gaza city of Rafah , local health officials said Monday, drawing swift condemnations against Israel. Gaza officials said the strike killed at least 45 Palestinians, including displaced people living in tents that were engulfed by fire.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there had been a "tragic mishap" and that Israel was investigating.

    The airstrike came hours after Hamas claimed it fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza toward central Israel as rocket sirens rang for the first time in months in cities like Tel Aviv.

    "The devastating images following an IDF strike in Rafah last night that killed dozens of innocent Palestinians are heartbreaking," a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement on Monday. "Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians. But as we've been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians."

    The Israeli attack drew swift condemnation from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, France and Qatar which warned it could "hinder" budding steps to revive the stalled truce and hostage release talks in the Israel-Hamas war raging since October 7, AFP noted.

    Gaza's Ministry of Health said in an earlier statement that "never before in history has such a large number of mass killing tools been amassed and employed together in front of the world as is happening now in Gaza," noting severe shortages of water, food, medicine, electricity and fuel.

    In a speech before Israel's parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said that "despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night, there was a tragic mishap. We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy."

    Eyewitnesses told CBS News' team in Gaza that eight airstrikes hit tents in western Rafah , though the reports could not be independently confirmed. The eyewitnesses said the casualties, which included civilians, were rushed to Emirati Hospital. The tents were part of a camp about 200 meters (about 650 feet) away from the largest United Nations warehouse in the Gaza Strip.

    The Israel Defense Forces acknowledged the strike in a statement Sunday night.

    "A short while ago, an IDF aircraft struck a Hamas compound in Rafah in which significant Hamas terrorists were operating," the IDF said. "The strike was carried out against legitimate targets under international law, using through the use of precise munitions and on the basis of precise intelligence that indicated Hamas' use of the area. 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."

    Footage from the scene showed heavy destruction, and a spokesperson with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the death toll was likely to increase as search and rescue efforts continued in Rafah's Tal al-Sultan neighborhood west of the city center.

    The society asserted that the location had been designated by Israel as a "humanitarian area."
    A Palestinian boy rides a bicycle past a destroyed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 26, 2024. EYAD BABA/AFP via Getty Images

    The strike comes two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah.

    Israel's defense minister, Yoav Gallant, was in Rafah on Sunday and was briefed on the "deepening of operations" there, his office said.

    In a statement on its Telegram channel Sunday, al-Qassam Brigades said the rockets fired by Hamas were launched in response to what it called "Zionist massacres against civilians," Reuters reported.

    The Israel Defense Forces said its air defenses intercepted several projectiles after eight rockets were launched from Rafah in the Gaza Strip toward Israel.

    The militants have fired projectiles at communities around Gaza during the war, but have not fired longer-range rockets in months.

    There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January, the Associated Press reported.

    The escalation came hours after aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel through a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Israeli forces seized the southern city of Rafah earlier this month. It was unclear if humanitarian groups would be able to access the aid because of the ongoing fighting in the area.

    Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. It agreed to temporarily divert traffic through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza's main cargo terminal, after a call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
    Israeli military vehicles drive in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 24, 2024. Tsafrir Abayov / AP

    The war between Israel and Hamas, now in its eighth month, has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. Around 80% of the population's 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and U.N. officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

    Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which its militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas is still holding some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a cease-fire last year.

    On Saturday, CBS News reported that U.S. diplomatic efforts to broker a deal to release hostages held in Gaza by Hamas are expected to continue in the coming week. Negotiators from Qatar, Egypt and the United States will be part of the talks.

    "There is progress," a senior Biden administration official told CBS News. "Contacts are ongoing and we are working closely with Egyptian and Qatari mediators. These contacts will continue through the coming week as we seek to move the negotiating process forward."

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