Israel denies strike on camp near Rafah that Gaza officials say killed 21 people

Palestinians travel in vehicles and on foot Tuesday along with their belongings as they flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Hatem Khaled/REUTERS)

CAIRO — Israel’s military denied striking a tent camp west of Rafah on Tuesday after Gaza health authorities said Israeli tank shelling had killed at least 21 people there, in an area Israel has designated a civilian evacuation zone.

Earlier, defying an appeal from the International Court of Justice, Israeli tanks advanced to the heart of Rafah for the first time after a night of heavy bombardment, while Spain, Ireland and Norway officially recognized a Palestinian state, a move that further deepened Israel’s international isolation.


The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said it did not believe such an operation was under way.

Two days after an Israeli airstrike on another camp stirred global condemnation, Gaza emergency services said four tank shells on Tuesday hit a cluster of tents in Al-Mawasi, a coastal strip Israel designated as an expanded humanitarian zone where it advised civilians in Rafah to go for safety.

At least 12 of the dead on Tuesday were women, according to medical officials in the Hamas militant-run Palestinian enclave.

But Israel’s military later said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) did not strike in the Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi.”

Israel told around one million Palestinian civilians displaced by the almost eight-month-old war to evacuate to Al-Mawasi when it launched its incursion in Rafah in early May.

Around that many have fled Rafah since then, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA reported on Tuesday.

In central Rafah, tanks and armoured vehicles mounted with machine guns were spotted near Al-Awda mosque, a city landmark, witnesses told Reuters on Tuesday. The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the Rafah area.


International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage after an attack on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people.

Israel said it had targeted two senior Hamas operatives and had not intended to cause civilian casualties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the harm to civilians occurred when “something unfortunately went tragically wrong.”

Global leaders voiced horror at the fire in a designated humanitarian zone of Rafah where families uprooted by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter, and they urged the implementation of a World Court order last week for a halt to Israel’s assault.

After a meeting of the U.N. Security Council closed doors on Tuesday over the latest developments in Rafah, Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Amar Bendjama said the country would propose a draft council resolution to “stop the killing in Rafah.”

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that munitions stored near a compound targeted by Sunday’s airstrike may have ignited and touched off the blaze.

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