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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: Rafah death toll rises amid condemnation

Published May 27, 2024last updated May 27, 2024

Gaza authorities have revised the death toll from an Israeli airstrike on a Rafah refugee camp to 45. Amid global condemnation, Israel is investigating the strike, which it said targeted Hamas officials.

Shadows of people and flames
People picked through the rubble on Monday after a displaced persons camp was hit by an airstrike Image: Mohammed Salem/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

Palestinian health authorities say at least 45 people were killed at a displaced persons' camp in an Israeli airstrike late Sunday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Israel said it was targeting Hamas officials, and military prosecutors are investigating what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a "tragic incident."

The strike drew international condemnation. 

Here is a round up of developments from the Israel-Hamas war and the wider Middle East region on Monday, May 27.

Skip next section EU foreign ministers call human rights meeting with Israel
May 27, 2024

EU foreign ministers call human rights meeting with Israel

Foreign ministers from EU member states have agreed to hold a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council to assess Israel's compliance with the association agreement's human rights obligations. 

The EU's top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, announced the move after talks in Brussels on Monday. 

Rather than complying with an ICJ court order to halt its attacks in Rafah, Borrell said, Israel had implemented "an increase on the military activities, an increase in the bombing and increase on the casualties to civilian people." 

Borrell said the foreign ministers had asked him "to propose further concrete measures" to ensure Israel's compliance with the ICJ ruling. 

Though the EU has repeatedly condemned Hamas' October 7 attacks, criticism of Israel's military activities have been gaining volume and frequency, not least from Borrell himself.

Borrell also said the ministers held informal talks with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and with the secretary-general of the League of Arab States. 

He said they proposed holding an international conference to seek a two-state solution to the conflict, and urged EU member states to show their practical commitment to halting the fighting. 

Skip next section US to Israel: 'Take every possible precaution to protect civilians'
May 27, 2024

US to Israel: 'Take every possible precaution to protect civilians'

As the world reacts with indignation to an Israeli airstrike that killed some 45 civilians in a displacement camp outside Rafah on Sunday, Washington urged its ally to protect civilians.

"Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians," said a US National Security Council spokesperson, "But, as we've been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians."

"We are actively engaging the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and partners on the ground to assess what happened," the spokesperson said.

Skip next section Netanyahu calls deadly Rafah camp strike 'tragic incident'
May 27, 2024

Netanyahu calls deadly Rafah camp strike 'tragic incident'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said his government was investigating a deadly Israeli airstrike that killed scores of Palestinian civilians in a displacement camp in southern Gaza, calling it a "tragic incident."

"In Rafah, we evacuated a million uninvolved residents, and despite our best efforts, a tragic incident happened yesterday [Sunday]," he told lawmakers in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

"We are investigating the case and will draw conclusions," he added.

Skip next section Egyptian soldier killed in exchange of fire with Israeli troops, says Cairo
May 27, 2024

Egyptian soldier killed in exchange of fire with Israeli troops, says Cairo

The Egyptian military has said one of its soldiers was killed in an apparent exchange of fire with Israeli troops on the border to the Gaza Strip on Monday. 

"The Egyptian armed forces, via the relevant authorities, are investigating shots in the Rafah border area which led to the death of one of the guards," read an army statement.

Earlier, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also said it was investigating reports of gunfire close to the Rafah border crossing.

"A few hours ago [on Monday morning], a shooting incident occurred on the Egyptian border," an IDF statement read. "The incident is under review and discussions are being held with the Egyptians."

After several conflicts, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979. But relations have been strained by the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. Last month, IDF troops took control of the Palestinian side of the vital Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The reason for the apparent incident on Monday remains unclear. It's the first time Egypt has reported a military death since Israel's military campaign in Gaza began last October.

Last October, Israel apologized for accidentally firing on an Egyptian military post near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, lightly injuring several Egyptian border guards.

Skip next section At least 45 dead and almost 250 injured in Rafah: local officials
May 27, 2024

At least 45 dead and almost 250 injured in Rafah: local officials

Officials from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry have revised the death toll from Sunday night's Israeli airstrike on a Rafah refugee camp from 35 to at least 45 and said that over 200 more had been injured.

"Forty-five people lost their lives in yesterday's massacre in Rafah, including 23 women, children and older people," the Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement, putting the number of wounded at 249.

The attack has taken the total number of Palestinian fatalities in the war past 36,000, according to the ministry, whose figures don't distinguish between combatants and civilians.

In its initial findings on Monday, Israel acknowledged that the airstrike may have sparked a major fire which caused the fatalities.

Meanwhile, Colombia's Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo said the international community should "insist to Israel and its allies that the country negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict."

Skip next section EU's Borrell 'horrified,' German government presumes 'mistake'
May 27, 2024

EU's Borrell 'horrified,' German government presumes 'mistake'

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that he was "horrified" by the Israeli airstrikes which killed at least 35 displaced people at a refugee camp near Rafah and called for the attacks to "stop immediately."

Writing online, he lamented "Israeli strikes killing dozens of displaced persons, including small children" which he condemned "in the strongest terms."

Meanwhile, a German government spokesman said that Israel has a "right to defend itself within the framework of international law" and described Sunday's deadly strike as "presumably a mistake."

Referring to an ongoing Israeli investigation into the incident, he added: "In any case, a mistake has been made, that can already be said."

Asked about to whether Israel's actions in Gaza constitute war crimes, he said Berlin would reserve judgement until investigations are concluded.

"The conclusion as to whether this is a war crime in terms of international law is something that must be left to lawyers who know the exact facts," he said. "First, investigate what exactly happened and then make a judgement. [Let's] not make an immediate judgement based on pictures."

Asked whether German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck's weekend statement that military attacks on refugee camps are incompatible with international law represented the position of the German government, the spokesman said: "Yes."

Skip next section Israel's military prosecutor says investigating 'very serious' Rafah strike
May 27, 2024

Israel's military prosecutor says investigating 'very serious' Rafah strike

The civilian fatalities at a displaced persons' camp from Sunday night's Israeli airstrike near Rafah may have been a result of a fire caused by a strike targeting Hamas leaders, an Israeli government spokesman said on Monday, describing the "initial findings" of its investigation into the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they "eliminated" two high-ranking Hamas officials in what they called a strike on a Hamas compound. But local authorities say at least 35 people were killed, with some estimates as high as 45.

"It is in the nature of things that serious incidents happen in a war of this scope and intensity," the IDF's top military prosecutor, Major General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said at a conference on Monday. 

"Some of the incidents, like the one yesterday in Rafah, are very serious."

She said investigations would continue.

Skip next section France's Macron 'outraged' at Rafah airstrike as condemnation spreads
May 27, 2024

France's Macron 'outraged' at Rafah airstrike as condemnation spreads

Condemnation of the deadly Israeli airstrike on a Rafah refugee camp on Sunday continued to spread on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron leading a chorus of senior Western politicians in expressing criticism of Israel.

Writing on the social network X, formerly Twitter, Macron said he was "outraged" over the attack, which local officials say resulted in dozens of fatalities and injuries. "These operations must stop," he added. "There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians."

Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said: "On top of the hunger, on top of the starvation, the refusal to allow aid in sufficient volumes, what we witnessed last night is barbaric."

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said Rome was "watching the situation with despair." 

"There is an increasingly difficult situation in which the Palestinian people are being squeezed without regard for the rights of innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with Hamas. This can no longer be justified," he told broadcaster SkyTG24. 

Italy has repeatedly insisted Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas, calling an International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision last week to seek an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "unacceptable."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime critic of Israel, said Ankara would do "everything possible" to hold what he called "barbarians and murderers" accountable.

While the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has insisted that the attack targeted Hamas officials in a compound based on solid intelligence, its top military prosecutor has nevertheless called the situation "very grave."

Israeli strike on Rafah kills dozens, Gaza ministry says

Skip next section EU considers reviving Rafah border mission, 'EUBAM'
May 27, 2024

EU considers reviving Rafah border mission, 'EUBAM'

The European Union is considering reviving a Gaza border force, which has effectively been defunct since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007.

The European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) was a civilian body deployed on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing in 2005, with the aim of supporting the border force of the Palestinian Authority.

Since Hamas came to power in 2007, EUBAM has been retained only in a basic form. Led by Bulgarian diplomat Nataliya Apostolova with an annual budget of €2.6 million ($2.82 million), it currently has eight representatives on the ground and 10 more employees abroad.

If revived and expanded, EUBAM would help Palestinian authorities process imported goods and carry out biometric passport checks.

"Today we can have a political decision and then it needs to be implemented technically," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels, adding it would require approval from Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians.

One Israeli official told the Reuters news agency that, while Israel has "yet to consolidate a 'day-after' plan for Gaza" and there is still "no formal position on this initiative," Defense Minister Yoav Gallant did outline a "multinational force" which could help manage Gaza "once Hamas is defeated."

As such, "an EU mission in Rafah could potentially dovetail with that," the official said.

Skip next section Israel investigating deaths of Gaza war detainees
May 27, 2024

Israel investigating deaths of Gaza war detainees

The Israeli military is conducting an investigation into the treatment of Palestinian detainees since the start of the current war against Hamas in Gaza — including fatalities and reports of abuse.

"To date, 70 military police investigations have been opened into incidents that have raised suspicion of criminal offenses," said Israeli military advocate general Major General Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi.

"These investigations also address allegations raised about the incarceration conditions at Sde Teiman detention center and the deaths of detainees in IDF custody. We are treating these allegations very seriously and are taking action to probe them."

The probes come a month after the Physicians for Human Rights group cited accounts by former inmates and a doctor from the Sde Teiman prisoner camp that detainees had been subjected to severe violence resulting in fractures, internal bleeding and even death.

Skip next section Israeli strike condemned by UNRWA, Arab nations
May 27, 2024

Israeli strike condemned by UNRWA, Arab nations

Several Arab nations have criticized the Israeli airstrike on a refugee camp on Sunday night, which has left at least 35 dead and scores injured, according to local authorities.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry condemned the "deliberate bombing of displaced people's tents in the Palestinian city of Rafah" in what it called "a new and blatant violation of the provisions of international law."

Jordan and Kuwait decried what they called "war crimes" committed by Israel in Gaza and called for adherence to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling which ordered Israel to halt its current offensive in Rafah.

A man waves a metal sheet at a fire
After the attack, people tried to put out flames at the camp near RafahImage: Mohammed Salem/REUTERS

Meanwhile, Qatar said the latest airstrike could jeopardize cease-fire talks, which Doha has been mediating.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as a "grave violation of international laws that will aggravate the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Strip" and voiced "concern that the bombing will complicate ongoing mediation efforts and hinder reaching an agreement for an immediate and permanent ceasefire."

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, called the attack "horrifying" and cited reports of "mass casualties including children and women." It described Gaza as "hell on earth."

Skip next section EU foreign policy chief laments Israel's ongoing Rafah offensive
May 27, 2024

EU foreign policy chief laments Israel's ongoing Rafah offensive

Ahead of a  European Unionforeign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted that last week's International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling ordering Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah should be respected and implemented.

"Israel continues the military action that it has been asked to stop," he said. "This is really a dilemma: how can the international community [...] enforce the implementation of the decisions of the International Court of Justice?"

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the ICJ ruling was "binding" and "must be respected."

Israel has dismissed Friday's ruling, which the ICJ has no means of actually enforcing.

Skip next section At least 35 reported dead in Rafah strike
May 27, 2024

At least 35 reported dead in Rafah strike

A pile of smoldering debris
Smoldering debris seen Monday morning at a camp near RafahImage: Mohammed Salem/REUTERS

Dozens of people have been killed or injured overnight in an Israeli airstrike near the city of Rafah, in what local Hamas-run authorities have called a "massacre."

According to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, at least 35 people, predominantly women and children, were killed and dozens more injured. A senior official at Gaza's civil defense agency put the death toll at at least 40.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli rockets had struck a camp housing refugees who had already fled from other parts of the Gaza Strip.

The international medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders or MSF) said: "We are horrified by this deadly event which shows once again that nowhere is safe."

Israel presses on after ICJ orders halt to Rafah offensive

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that its aircraft had "struck a Hamas compound in Rafah," saying it had used "precise munitions" to "eliminate" two senior Hamas figures named as Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar. It said the pair were "legitimate targets under international law" and said the attack was based on "precise intelligence that indicated Hamas' use of the area."

It added that it was "aware of reports indicating that, as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited, several civilians in the area were harmed" and said the incident is "under review."

The latest Israeli airstrike came 24 hours after Hamas aimed a barrage of rockets at Israel, all eight of which were reportedly intercepted or crashed in fields.

The strike also comes after the International Court of Justice ordered a halt to Israel's offensive in Rafah last week. 

mf/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)