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Israel's latest strikes on Gaza's southern city could hinder truce- Qatar

World

Israel faced a wave of international condemnation Monday over a strike that Gaza officials said killed 45 people when it set off a fire that ripped through a tent city for displaced Palestinians.

Israel said it was looking into the "tragic accident" and its impact on civilians after the latest mass casualty event in the Gaza war, which has raged since October 7.

Adding to already heightened tensions since Israel launched a ground operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in early May, the Israeli and Egyptian militaries reported a "shooting incident" Monday that killed one Egyptian guard in the border area between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip.

Both forces said they were investigating.

Israel's military said Sunday evening's attack in the southern Rafah area had targeted and killed two senior Hamas operatives -- but it also sparked a fire that Palestinians and many Arab countries condemned as a "massacre".

A US National Security Council spokesperson said Israel "must take every precaution possible to protect civilians".

The Israeli military said it was launching a probe.

"There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres posted on social media, as diplomats said the UN Security Council will convene Tuesday in an emergency session to discuss the attack.

Displaced Gazan Khalil al-Bahtini was preparing to leave the impacted area, telling AFP Monday that "last night, the tent opposite to ours was targeted."

"We have loaded all our belongings, but we don't know where to go."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government was investigating the "tragic accident" which he told parliament occurred "despite our best efforts" to protect civilians.

Relatives of captives held in Gaza, who have increased pressure on Netanyahu's government demanding action to secure a hostage release deal, heckled him from the public gallery as he was speaking, and raised posters of their loved ones.

Israel launched the attack on Rafah late Sunday, hours after Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets at the Tel Aviv area, most of which were intercepted.

Israel's army said its aircraft "struck a Hamas compound in Rafah" and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, senior officials for the militant group in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza's civil defence agency said the strike ignited a fire that tore through a displacement centre in northwestern Rafah near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

"We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs ... We also saw cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly," said civil defence agency official Mohammad al-Mughayyir.

One survivor, a woman who declined to be named, said: "We heard a loud sound and there was fire all around us. The children were screaming."

- 'Dangerous violation' -

Footage from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic nighttime scenes of paramedics racing to the attack site and evacuating the wounded.

Mughayyir said the rescue efforts were hampered by war damage and the impacts of Israel's siege, which has led to severe shortages of fuel and "water to extinguish fires".

The Israeli attack sparked strong protests from mediators Egypt and Qatar, as well as from other regional governments.

Egypt deplored the "targeting of defenceless civilians", calling it part of "a systematic policy aimed at widening the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip to make it uninhabitable".

Jordan accused Israel of "ongoing war crimes", Saudi Arabia condemned "the continued massacres", and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed "to hold these barbarians and murderers accountable".

Qatar condemned a "dangerous violation of international law" and voiced "concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts" towards a truce.

The African Union chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said on X that "Israel continues to violate international law... in contempt of an ICJ ruling two days ago ordering an end to its military action in Rafah."

The top world court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to halt any offensive in Rafah and elsewhere that could bring about "the physical destruction" of the Palestinians.

- 'Hell on Earth' -
  An Israeli tank holds a position, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in Israel, March 26, 2024. [Reuters]

Israel's latest strikes on a displaced people's camp near Gaza's southern city of Rafah could hinder talks towards a truce and hostage release deal, mediator nation Qatar said on Monday.

The foreign ministry voiced "concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts and hinder reaching an agreement for an immediate and permanent ceasefire".

Qatar, alongside the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in months of talks aimed at securing a truce deal between Israel and Hamas in the devastated Gaza Strip.

But behind-the-scenes negotiations reached a stalemate earlier this month as Israel sent ground forces into Rafah.

Qatar, which has hosted Hamas's political leadership since 2012 with the blessing of the United States, condemned the Israeli bombing as a "dangerous violation of international law".

The foreign ministry called on the international community to act urgently to prevent Israel from "implementing its plans to forcibly displace (Palestinians) from the city, which has become a final refuge for hundreds of thousands" of people.

Saudi Arabia said it condemned "in the strongest terms the continued massacres committed by Israeli occupation forces".

In a statement, the Saudi foreign ministry called on the international community "to intervene immediately to halt the massacres" committed by the Israeli military.

The United Arab Emirates, which normalised relations with Israel in 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords, also condemned "the targeting of the tents of the displaced in Rafah" and called for an "immediate end" to operations in the area.

Kuwait's foreign ministry decried the Israeli attack, saying it exposed Israel's  "blatant war crimes and unprecedented genocide to the whole world".

The Gulf monarchy called for "immediate and firm intervention by the international community".

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