Netanyahu calls civilian deaths in Israeli attack on Rafah ‘tragic accident’: Live updates

Facing international condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the killing of dozens of people in a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah was “a tragic accident”, but there was no sign of restraint. limit the Israeli attack there.

His comments come at a particularly sensitive time, just three days after the International Court of Justice appeared to order Israel to immediately halt its offensive in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. , and when diplomats are working. for restart purposes talks next week on a ceasefire and hostage release between Israel and Hamas.

The World Court appeared to order Israel on Friday to suspend its military offensive and “any other action” in Rafah that could destroy all or part of the Palestinian population there. Some of the court’s judges said that Israel could still conduct some military operations in Rafah under the terms of their decision.

Israel said Sunday night’s attack killed two Hamas officials, but the civilian deaths generated immediate condemnation, which could make it harder for Israel to defend its position that the court order allowing them to continue their campaign in Rafah.

Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the Israeli Parliament that Israel tried to minimize civilian casualties by asking Gazans to evacuate areas of Rafah, but “despite our supreme efforts In order not to harm unrelated civilians, a tragic accident occurred that we regret last night.” He accused Hamas of hiding among the population, saying: “For us, every unrelated civilian who is hurt is a tragedy. For Hamas, it is a strategy. That’s the whole difference.”

Israeli military aerial footage of the attack, reviewed by The New York Times, showed a projectile striking an area filled with structures and parked cars. The video also shows at least four people walking around just before the Israeli attack took place.

Multiple videos from the same location after the strike, verified by The Times, showed fires raging through the night as residents frantically pulled bodies from the rubble, screaming in horror as they carried the bodies. could burn out of the camp. In one video, a man holds a headless child as flames engulf a structure behind him.

The Israeli military said the attack targeted a Hamas compound. In a statement on Monday, it said it had taken several previous steps to minimize the risk to civilians, including conducting aerial surveillance and using precision munitions.

“Based on these measures, it is assessed that there will be no harm to unrelated civilians,” the military said.

But according to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 45 people were killed by the explosion and subsequent fires, including 23 women, children and the elderly. The ministry said 249 people were injured.

Palestinians in Rafah gather at the site where internally displaced people died in an Israeli attack. Israel said the attack targeted a Hamas compound.Credit…Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An unnamed Israeli official said Monday that the army’s initial investigation had concluded that the attack may have accidentally ignited a flammable substance at the site. Witnesses described intense fires following the strike.

Military drone footage of the attack, reviewed by The New York Times, shows the projectile striking an area filled with large, cabin-like structures and parked cars. bean.

Two Israeli officials said the attack took place outside the designated humanitarian zone, which is supposed to be a safe haven for evacuated civilians, rejecting claims by the National Rescue Committee. The reality is that this area is in a safe zone. Army created a map showed what they said was the location of the attack in relation to the designated humanitarian area.

The military named the targets of the attack as Yassin Rabia, commander of Hamas’s leadership in the occupied West Bank, and Khaled Nagar, a senior official in the same faction of the group.

Palestinian children look at the hearse carrying the bodies of victims of the Israeli attack in Rafah. Credit…Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Hamas did not confirm their deaths, but in a statement it described Israel’s attack on Rafah as “a terrible war crime” and demanded “immediate and urgent enforcement”. decision of the World Court.

According to the military, the attack occurred in Tal as Sultan, northwest of Rafah. Israeli ground forces have so far operated southeast of Rafah and in a narrow corridor along the Egyptian border.

The order was issued Friday by the International Court of Justice, a United Nations agency, as part of a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. It called on Israel to immediately stop any action in Rafah, “which could expose the Palestinian population in Gaza to living conditions that could lead to total or partial physical destruction.”

Israeli officials argued that the ruling allowed Israel to continue fighting in Rafah because it had not and would not cause such conditions.

But even some of Israel’s allies disagree. Germany’s deputy chancellor, Robert Habeck, said on Saturday that Israel’s attack in Rafah was “not in accordance with international law”. And President Emmanuel Macron of France said Monday he was “outraged” by the airstrikes in Rafah and that they “must stop.”

Legal experts say the World Court’s ruling was worded vaguely, most likely intentionally, partly because of the need to find common ground among the judges.

But William Schabas, a professor of international law at Middlesex University in London and former chairman of the United Nations commission of inquiry into Israel’s military activities in the Gaza Strip in 2014, said that Israel’s view of the order was “a type of irrational action”. reserves the right to continue military operations without changes in Rafah.”

Professor Schabas said the individual opinions of several judges “demonstrate a lack of consensus on the extent of any exceptions to the general ban on military activity in Rafah”. But “stop means stop,” he said, calling Israel’s argument “a strange distortion of language.”

Palestinians walk through the area devastated by the Israeli attack in Rafah.Credit…Jehad Alshrafi/Associated Press

Yuval Shany, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said Israel’s position “makes sense” given the apparent ambiguity in the language and the nature of its nature. conditions of the judgment. However, he noted, the court considers the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip to be already dire and deteriorating, and said that to comply with the ruling, Israel will have to do more to reduce risks to civilians and their suffering.

The deadly attack in Rafah “certainly complicates Israel’s position,” Professor Shany said, even if it was intended to be the type of focused, precision strike that Israel’s allies have pushed for. urge this country to switch.

At times, such fatal accidents have created enough international pressure on Israel to end cycles of conflict. During Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 1996, Israeli forces shelled a United Nations compound in the village of Qana, killing more than a hundred civilians sheltering there. That led to a call by the United Nations Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and a US-brokered understanding that ended the conflict about a week later.

In 2006, in another conflict with Hezbollah, the turning point came when Israeli forces shelled a multi-story residential building in Qana, killing about 28 people.

Neil Collier, Patrick Kingsley, Arijeta Lajka, Myra Noveck , Johnatan Reiss And Christian Triebert Report contributions.

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