Israel pounds Gaza as UN Security Council meets over deadly strike

The mother of a wounded Palestinian boy cries as he is rushed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza Strip following Israeli bombardment of a house in Nuseirat city on May 27, 2024 (Bashar TALEB)
The mother of a wounded Palestinian boy cries as he is rushed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza Strip following Israeli bombardment of a house in Nuseirat city on May 27, 2024 (Bashar TALEB)

Israel carried out fresh strikes on Wednesday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where its forces are battling Hamas militants, after the UN Security Council met to discuss a deadly attack that sparked global outcry.

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

AFP journalists in Rafah reported new strikes early Wednesday, hours after witnesses and a Palestinian security source said Israeli tanks had penetrated the heart of the city.

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

US President Joe Biden has warned Israel against launching a major military operation in Rafah, but his administration insisted Tuesday that Israel had not yet crossed its red lines.

"We have not seen them smash into Rafah," said the US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

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 over the weekend sparked global outrage and prompted the emergency UN Security Council session.

Israel's army rejected allegations that it had carried out Tuesday's strike in a designated humanitarian area.

"The (Israel army) did not strike in the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi," the army said in a statement, referring to an area that had been designated for displaced people of Rafah to shelter.

- Camp inferno -

On Sunday, an Israeli strike outside Rafah ignited an inferno in a displacement camp, torching makeshift shelters and killing 45 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the strike a "tragic accident", while the army said it had targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members of the group.

The military later said the weapons it had used "could not" have caused the deadly camp blaze.

"Our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size," Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said ahead of Tuesday's emergency UN session on the strike.

Algeria, which called the urgent meeting, said it had presented a draft resolution to Security Council members calling for an end to Israel's offensive in Rafah and an "immediate ceasefire," according to a draft text seen by AFP.

The UN Security Council was scheduled to discuss the war again on Wednesday.

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."

- No 'blind eye' -

One million civilians have fled Rafah since Israel launched its assault on the city in early May, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

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

The White House said Tuesday it is not turning a "blind eye" to the plight of Palestinian civilians, but it has no plans to change its Israel policy following the deadly weekend strike in Rafah.

"As a result of this strike on Sunday I have no policy changes to speak to," Kirby told a White House briefing. "It just happened, the Israelis are going to investigate it."

Kirby said "this is not something that we've turned a blind eye to" but added: "We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops, in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground."

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.

- Dire health toll -

On Tuesday, 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.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza gave the same toll and said 64 people were wounded, 10 seriously.

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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