Israeli Army denies hitting Rafah tent amid global outcry: ’Efforts made to minimize casualties but...’

Under the global scrutiny for its operations in Rafah, the Israeli Army said the munition used by Israel to target the Hamas leaders in Rafah “alone could have ignited a fire of this size”. The statement came as “All eyes on Rafah” continued to trend on social media.

Akriti Anand
First Published29 May 2024
'All eyes on Rafah' trends on social media: A man looks on as Palestinians inspect a tent camp damaged in an Israeli strike during an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024.
’All eyes on Rafah’ trends on social media: A man looks on as Palestinians inspect a tent camp damaged in an Israeli strike during an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. (REUTERS)

Days after the global outcry over Israel's operation in the Gazan city of Rafah on Sunday night, the Israel Defense Forces issued a statement saying that they launched "targeted strikes" in Rafah to eliminate two senior Hamas terrorists.

IDF Spokesperson RAdm. Daniel Hagari said late Tuesday that following the airstrike, a large fire ignited "for reasons that are still being investigated". However, the munition used by Israel to target the Hamas leaders "alone could have ignited a fire of this size," Hagari said in a video statement.

The IDF spokesperson also shared satellite images to explain and clarify that they had targeted "a closed structure [in Rafah] which was away from the tent area".

"There are no tents in the immediate vicinity of the structure that we targeted," he said. "Following the strike, due to unforeseen circumstances, a fire ignited tragically, taking the lives of Gazan civilians nearby," he added.

Before launching strikes in Rafah, the Israeli forces informed that a "barrage of rockets was launched from Rafah toward central Israel moments ago".

At least 45 people were killed and 200 others were injured after the Israeli airstrike reportedly set ablaze a crowded tent camp housing in Rafah for displaced people. About half of Gaza's population have been living in Rafah, the southernmost post of exit from Gaza city bordering Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Israel's operation in the Gazan city of Rafah on Sunday night prompted a global outcry, with millions by posting "All eyes on Rafah" graphics on social media.

So, what caused the fire?

The IDF spokesperson said the 17-kilogram munitions used in the strike were believed to be too small to have set off such a big fire.

He said a team is investigating all options, including the weapons stored in the compound next to the Israeli target, "which we did not know of, may have ignited as a result of the strike".

"We are looking into the possibility of secondary explosions from a Hamas ammunition warehouse near the civilian compound and over 100 meters away from the strike site — causing the fire that tragically took civilian lives," the IDF said.

The spokesperson added, "It should be noted that Hamas has been operating from this area [in Rafah] since October 7". The Palestinian militant group Hamas had launched surprise attacks on parts of Israel on October 7 last year, that had killed around 1,200 Israelis.

He further claimed that "contrary to Hamas' lies and misinformation", the Israeli strike did not take place in the Humanitarian Area or the safe zones.

Israel Defence Force express grief: ‘We did not expect’

The IDF spokesperson said, "Our war is against Hamas and not against the people of Gaza. And that is why we convey deep sorrow for this tragic loss of life." He said this was a "devastating incident that we did not expect".

"Despite our efforts to minimize civilian casualties during the strike, the fire that broke out was unexpected and unintended...Our investigation seeks to determine what may have caused such a large fire to ignite," the spokesperson added.

On the killing of two Hamas leaders, the IDF spokesperson said they were responsible for orchestrating and executing terror attacks against Israelis and "were meeting inside the specific structure" that Israel we targeted.

"They were actively commanding operations that could have killed even more Israelis... Their death saved live," the IDF said.

What's happening now?

On Wednesday, Israeli tanks conducted a second day of probing attacks across Rafah after the US said the Sunday's assault did not amount to a major ground incursion of the southern Gazan city that US officials had told Israel to avoid.

The US, Israel's closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said on Tuesday it did not believe such an operation was underway.

According to Reuters, Israeli tanks advanced to the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday after a night of heavy bombardment. With this, Israel is said to have defied an appeal from the International Court of Justice to end its attack on the city, one of the last places of refuge in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Rafah residents said Israeli tanks mounted raids into Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating to positions near the border with Egypt.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said they confronted the invading forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, as well as blowing up previously planted explosive devices.

The Israeli military said three soldiers were killed and three others were seriously wounded in combat in southern Gaza on Wednesday.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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