Civil defence says 21 dead in new strike on Gaza camp that Israel denies

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivering a speech on the recognition of Palestinian statehood by Madrid (Thomas COEX)
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivering a speech on the recognition of Palestinian statehood by Madrid (Thomas COEX)

A civil defence official in Hamas-run Gaza said an Israeli strike on a displacement camp west of Rafah on Tuesday killed at least 21 people, after a similar strike that sparked global outrage.

Israel denied carrying out the latest reported strike, which occurred ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss a Sunday strike which Palestinian officials said killed 45 people.

Despite mounting concerns over the civilian toll of its war on Hamas, Israel has shown no signs of changing course and international efforts aimed at securing a ceasefire remain stalled.

In the latest bloodshed, Gaza civil defence agency official Mohammad al-Mughayyir said 21 people were killed in an "occupation strike targeting the tents of displaced people" in west Rafah. Hamas said an Israeli strike on the area caused "dozens of martyrs and wounded".

Israel's army rejected the allegations, saying it "did not strike" the designated humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi.

In Rafah, residents and a Palestinian security source said Israeli tanks had now penetrated the heart of the southern city.

"People are currently inside their homes because anyone who moves is being shot at by Israeli drones," one resident, Abdel Khatib, said.

- 'Random bombing' -

An emergency Security Council meeting is due to discuss Sunday's deadly strike from 1915 GMT.

Ahead of the meeting, Israel's military said the weapons used in that strike "could not" have caused the deadly camp blaze.

"Our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size," said its spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Sunday evening's strike, which medics said also wounded hundreds of civilians, drew worldwide condemnation.

The sight of the charred carnage, blackened corpses and children being rushed to hospitals led UN chief Antonio Guterres to declare that "there is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the strike as a "tragic accident" but affirmed the continuation of the campaign to destroy Hamas over the October 7 attack and to bring home all the hostages.

Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on Tuesday released a video showing an Israeli hostage alive and held in Gaza, identified by Israeli media as Sasha Trupanov, 28.

Air strikes and shelling had battered Gaza overnight Monday-Tuesday -- including the Tal al-Sultan area where the displacement camp went up in flames near a facility of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Faten Jouda, a 30-year-old resident, described the situation.

"There was random bombing from all directions... We saw everyone fleeing again," she told AFP. "We too will go now and head to Al-Mawasi because we fear for our lives."

- Palestinian statehood -

UNRWA said one million civilians had fled Rafah since Israel launched its assault on the city in early May despite a chorus of international warnings.

Nearly eight months into the deadliest Gaza war, Israel has faced ever louder opposition, as well as cases before two Netherlands-based international courts.

In a landmark move on Tuesday, Ireland, Norway and Spain formally recognised the State of Palestine, a step so far taken by more than 140 UN members but few Western governments.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the recognition was "not only a matter of historic justice... it is also an essential requirement if we are all to achieve peace".

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said the aim was to keep Middle East peace hopes alive, and urged Israel to "stop the humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza.

Israel has slammed the recognition as a "reward" for Hamas, and recalled its diplomatic envoys from Madrid, Dublin and Oslo.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said the three governments would "issue a coordinated response" to Israel which would be "calm but firm".

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on the latest Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

- 'Hell on Earth' -

Sunday night's attack that killed dozens in the displaced persons camp was targeting two senior Hamas members, the Israeli military said.

It said aircraft "struck a Hamas compound" and killed Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, senior officials for the group in the occupied West Bank.

The strike came hours after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets towards Tel Aviv, with most being intercepted.

The civilian death toll in the Gaza camp prompted a wave of condemnation, with Palestinians and many Arab countries calling it a "massacre".

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Monday that "the images from last night are testament to how Rafah has turned into hell on Earth".

The United States said it was "deeply saddened" over Sunday's Rafah strike and that it would follow Israel's investigation closely.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it had suspended aid deliveries into Gaza by the sea after its temporary pier was damaged by bad weather.

The World Health Organization said Israel's military offensive in Rafah was already taking a dire health toll in southern Gaza, and if it continues, "substantial" increases in deaths could be expected.

"There are currently 60 WHO trucks (in Egypt) waiting to get into Gaza," said Rik Peeperkorn, WHO representative in the Palestinian territories, adding that only three trucks with medical supplies had entered since May 7.

On the diplomatic front, Egypt has "intensified efforts to relaunch" negotiations for a "truce and a detainee exchange deal", the state-linked Al-Qahera News reported.

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