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Palestinian medics say Israeli airstrike kills 22 in Rafah and displaced people are hit

By Associated Press
Published: May 26, 2024, 1:20pm

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian medics said 22 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike Sunday on the southern Gaza city of Rafah that hit tents for displaced people.

There were no immediate details on the target, but footage from the scene showed heavy destruction. The Israeli army said it was unaware of anything occurring in the area.

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.”

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.

The airstrike was reported hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv for the first time in months in a show of resilience more than seven months into Israel’s massive air, sea and ground offensive.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January. Hamas’ military wing claimed the attack. Palestinian militants have sporadically fired rockets and mortar rounds at communities along the Gaza border, and the military arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group later Sunday said it fired rockets at nearby communities.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion. It said “a number” of the projectiles were intercepted, and military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the launcher in Rafah was destroyed.

Earlier on Sunday, aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel under a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of it earlier this month. But it was not immediately clear if humanitarian groups could access the aid because of fighting.

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.

But the Kerem Shalom crossing has been largely inaccessible because of Israel’s offensive in Rafah. Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter, but United Nations agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid.

The war between Israel and Hamas has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. The Health Ministry said the bodies of 81 people killed by Israeli strikes had been brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants operate in dense, residential areas.

Around 80% of Gaza’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 Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a cease-fire last year.

The war has also heightened tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian authorities on Sunday said Israeli forces shot dead a 14-year-old boy near the southern West Bank town of Saeer. The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Southern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion into Rafah on May 6. Since then over 1 million Palestinians, many already displaced, have fled the city.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV aired footage of what it said were trucks entering Gaza through Kerem Shalom. Khaled Zayed, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in the Sinai Peninsula, which handles aid delivery from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, said 200 aid trucks and four fuel trucks were scheduled to be sent to Kerem Shalom on Sunday.

Northern Gaza receives aid through two land routes that Israel opened during global outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.

A few dozen trucks enter Gaza daily through a U.S.-built floating pier, but its capacity remains far below the 150 trucks a day that officials hoped for. Aid groups say 600 trucks a day are needed.

Israel’s military said it had detained a suspect over a widely circulated video in which a man dressed as a soldier threatens mutiny. In the video, the man says tens of thousands of soldiers were ready to disobey the defense minister over his suggestion that Palestinians should govern Gaza after the war and pledged loyalty to Netanyahu alone.

The military spokesman, Hagari, said the man has been removed from reserve duty. The man has not been publicly identified. It was not clear when or where the video was made. The prime minister’s office released a brief statement condemning all forms of military subordination.

Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah to eliminate Hamas’ remaining battalions and achieve “total victory” over the militants, who recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza where the military has operated.

Netanyahu faces growing pressure to make a deal with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, something Hamas has refused without guarantees for an end to the war and full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Netanyahu has ruled that out.

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The war leaves Israel increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Last week, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister along with three Hamas leaders.

On Friday, the International Court of Justice also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza. Israel is unlikely to comply.

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