Devastation after Israeli strike on Rafah camp

Palestinians gather at the site of the Israeli strike on the camp for displaced people (Eyad BABA)
Palestinians gather at the site of the Israeli strike on the camp for displaced people (Eyad BABA)

Men cleared away the charred debris of shelters and children salvaged food in Gaza's southern city of Rafah on Monday after an Israeli strike torched a camp for displaced Palestinians.

"People were not just injured or killed, but charred," 24-year-old Mohammed Hamad told AFP in the aftermath of the strike that killed at least 45 people.

The death toll came from the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which also said that 249 people were wounded in the strike.

"My cousin's daughter, a child no more than 13, was among the martyrs. She had no features at all because shrapnel tore off her face," Hamad said.

Israel's military said its aircraft "struck a Hamas compound in Rafah" on Sunday night, killing two senior officials for the Palestinian militant group in the occupied West Bank.

The strike caused a fire that blazed through the camp in the Rafah governorate's Tal Al-Sultan area, reducing tents and shelters to ashes.

Footage released by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society showed chaotic nighttime scenes of ambulances racing to the attack site and evacuating the wounded, including children.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on social media platform X that a first response point it supports in Tal Al-Sultan had received 28 dead and 180 wounded, with many suffering "from traumatic injuries, notably due to shrapnel, fractures and burns".

Patients were transferred to nearby field hospitals after being stabilised, MSF emergency coordinator Samuel Johann said.

But "the health system was decimated and no health facility in Gaza can currently cope with an event with this many casualties," he said.

As Palestinians cleared the site on Monday, only blackened metal sheeting and charred planks remained, the tent shelters having been all but obliterated.

"When these rockets fall on a tower block there are dozens of martyrs, so what about when they are tents?" lamented a man called Hamad.

"When we heard the sound (of the explosion), the sky suddenly lit up," displaced Palestinian Muhannad, an eyewitness, told AFP.

- 'Ground shook violently' -

"We saw charred bodies and dismembered limbs as a result of the use of ... missiles that caused a massive fire," the director of Gaza's civil defence agency, Mohammad al-Mughayyir, said.

Mughayyir, who oversaw the response to the fire, said on Monday "rescue and retrieval operations concluded last night, while efforts to extinguish the fire continued for 45 minutes".

He said battling the inferno was made even more difficult because of fuel and water shortages.

"We also saw cases of amputations, injured children, women, and elderly among the dead," he added.

Displaced Palestinians who had sought shelter in the area after being told by the Israelis to evacuate their homes were shocked when the camp was targeted.

"They dropped leaflets asking us to go to the humanitarian zone in Tal al-Sultan, so we complied and came here," Abu Muhammad, who was displaced from north Gaza five months ago, told AFP.

"But yesterday when I was having dinner at sunset, suddenly it felt like there was an earthquake -- the ground shook violently," he said.

Mohammed Abu Qamar, 27, said he was equally baffled by the strikes, after he too moved from north Gaza to the camp that had been labelled a "safe zone" by the Israeli authorities.

"Yesterday evening, to our surprise, the camp was bombarded with rockets in this supposedly safe place," he told AFP on Monday.

"A fire broke out, and children, women, and old people were burned."

- 'Grave and awful' -

At the Tel Al-Sultan Clinic, body bags of white sheeting lay on the floor of a room before the dead were taken away for burial in pickup trucks.

"She was seven months pregnant ... her room was bombed," Ahmad Miqdad told AFP in tears at the clinic.

His only sister, Yasmine, was killed in the strike and her body could not be recovered because it was blown to pieces in the explosion, he said.

"She was preparing to welcome her new baby. What did this innocent child do to deserve this?".

Israel's government said on Monday it was looking into the "grave and awful" impact on Palestinian civilians of the previous night's strike.

The military said it had launched an investigation.

The Gaza war began after the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,050 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.