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regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least nine Palestinians, including six children

Israel's war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East

AP Rafah Published 20.04.24, 08:41 PM
Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the abo al Hanood family after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the abo al Hanood family after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, April 17, 2024 PTI

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza's southernmost city killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel's war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East.

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The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighbourhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza's civil defence. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man were taken to Rafah's Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the hospital's records showed.

At the hospital, relatives cried and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.

The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.

"This is a world devoid of all human values and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press Saturday morning, crying as he cradled and gently rocked the body of Alaa in his arms. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. The only martyrs were women and children.”

No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.

Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, currently hosts more than half of Gaza's total population of about 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting elsewhere.

Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel's staunchest ally, the United States, the Israeli government has insisted for months that it intends to push a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas militants are holed up.

Such a ground operation has not materialized so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes in and around the city.

The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on October 7 that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and saw about 250 people kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have been confirmed to now be dead, either killed on October 7 or having died in captivity.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 wounded, it said. The latest figures bring the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said.

Although the Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count, they say at least two thirds have been children and women.

The war has sent regional tensions spiralling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.

On Friday, both Iran and Israel played down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating the two sides were pulling back from what could have become an all-out conflict.

Over the past several weeks, an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria and was followed by an unprecedented Iranian missile barrage on Israel.

Israel has also faced off with the Hezbollah militant group, an Iranian proxy operating from Lebanon, with the two sides there frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels have also joined the fray, launching strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

Tension has also been high in the occupied West Bank. An Israeli army raid in the Nur Shams urban refugee camp that killed at least four people on Friday — three militants and a 15-year-old boy — continued into Saturday.

The Israeli army said its forces had killed 10 militants in the refugee camp and the surrounding areas while the military and the Border Police had arrested eight Palestinian suspects. Nine of its officers and soldiers were wounded, it said.

An Associated Press journalist at the camp said sounds of intermittent gunfire and explosions were still ringing out Saturday afternoon. The Palestinian Red Crescent said they were trying to reach a number of casualties in the camp but were being prevented by the Israeli army, which instructed their emergency teams to leave the area.

The raid appears to be one of the largest that has taken place at the refugee camp since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.

At least 469 Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank have been killed by Israeli fire since October, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Palestinian health authorities said one of those killed Friday was a 15-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one who it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation.

Saraya al-Quds, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy gunbattles Saturday morning with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, adjacent to Nur Shams. Residents in Tulkarem went on a general strike Saturday to protest the attack.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has a limited foothold in many of the territory's northern towns and cities, including Tulkarem and Jenin. Militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, are active in both cities, often clashing with Israeli soldiers during army raids.

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