Israel justifies deadly strike on Rafah

The IDF claims to have struck “legitimate targets” amid reports of at least 35 civilian deaths

The Israel Defense Forces said its air force conducted a “precise strike” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, eliminating two senior Hamas leaders. However, according to local health officials, dozens of people were killed and injured in the area allegedly designated as a safe zone for displaced civilians.

Israeli airstrikes on Sunday hit Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood, killing at least 35 people and injuring scores more, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave. 

Footage from the scene showed widespread devastation, as blaze ripped through the tent camp. A spokesperson with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society warned that with many people trapped in flaming debris the final death toll may rise.

Several harrowing videos showed rescuers pulling badly burnt victims and scorched bodies from the ruins, as first responders struggled to help the survivors and tackle the raging fires.

Earlier this month, the IDF had ordered partial evacuation of the neighborhood, but three blocks of that area were still designated as safe, encouraging people to take refuge there, according to Al Jazeera.

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The Israeli military acknowledged the air raid, but insisted that it targeted a Hamas compound and successfully eliminated two “senior terrorists,” accused of planning and carrying out “numerous attacks, in which IDF soldiers were killed.”

“The strike was carried out against legitimate targets under international law, through the use of precise munitions and on the basis of precise intelligence,” the Israeli military said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

“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 IDF added, noting that the “incident is under review.”

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Last week, the United Nations’ top judicial body, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Israel to immediately halt its operation in Rafah. The court said it was “not convinced that the evacuation efforts and the related measures that Israel affirms to have undertaken” were sufficient to “alleviate the immense risk” to civilians.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas started on October 7, when the Gaza-based group launched a surprise raid into the south of the country, killing some 1,200 people and taking approximately 250 hostages. More than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed so far amid the IDF operation to destroy the militants, according to the enclave’s health authorities.

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