Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as Gazans describe ‘horrifying’ strike

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“All the people fled from the tents running. The sound was horrifying and deafening,” one woman said as people around her, including young children, searched through what was left behind of the scorched tent camp in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighborhood.

“This place is full of innocent people and children,” she said. “And they are martyred.”

“My cousins and the entire family were wiped off the civil record,” said one man who identified himself as Mahmoud Diab Mouhamed Talal Elataar. “No one is left.”

Elataar, 20, said he raced to the site after hearing about Sunday’s airstrike in a bid to ensure his loved ones were OK, but “no one is alive.” On Monday, all he could do was search through the remains of those killed in the hope of being able to identify his family members.

Negotiations over a ceasefire deal that would halt the war in Gaza are once again stalled, while Israel appears to be preparing for an expanded ground offensive around Rafah, despite international concern.
Israeli forces have been pushing deeper into Rafah.Amir Levy / Getty Images

An Israeli official told NBC News that preliminary information indicated the airstrike likely ignited a fuel tank, causing an explosion and fire that spread through the camp where displaced civilians were sheltering in tents and killed dozens of people, including children.

A U.S. official said that Israel told the U.S. that they used a precision munition to hit their target but that shrapnel or something else from the explosion ignited a fuel tank nearby, which started a fire, engulfing a tent and leading to many casualties. 

The official added that the U.S. cannot confirm that information directly but “it’s what Israel shared with us — and we assume we will learn more once Israel completes its investigation.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday the deadly incident was “tragic,” adding that it was under investigation. The Israel Defense Forces said it had targeted two senior Hamas leaders and did not strike a designated humanitarian area.

The Sunday strike came hours after Hamas’ military wing announced a missile barrage targeting Tel Aviv for the first time in many weeks, with the IDF saying eight projectiles were identified crossing from the Rafah area into Israeli territory.

The attack has left Israel — and its chief ally, the United States — increasingly isolated on the world stage.

On Tuesday the United Nations Security Council was set to convene an emergency meeting, while a trio of European countries formally recognized an independent Palestinian state. Last week the U.N.’s top court ordered Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah, citing the “immediate risk” to Palestinians.

A National Security Council spokesperson said Monday the images from the strike were heartbreaking, warning Israel of its responsibility to protect civilians in a war that has so far seen more than 36,000 people killed in Gaza, according to local health officials.

Israel launched its offensive following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, in which Israeli officials said some 1,200 people were killed and around 250 others taken hostage in a major escalation of the decadeslong conflict.

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