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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israeli troops keep up assault on Rafah after condemnation of deadly strike

By Cassandra Vinograd

Israel’s military said its troops were pressing on with their ground assault in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, even as international outrage over its operation there intensified in the wake of a deadly airstrike on a camp for displaced Palestinians.

The military has said that the strike in Rafah on Sunday — which ignited a deadly fire in the camp and killed dozens of people — was targeting a Hamas compound.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Monday it was a “tragic accident” that civilians had been killed, and Tuesday the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson claimed that the bombs Israel had used in the attack were too small to have caused a fire of that size.

Those statements, however, did little to quell a chorus of voices demanding accountability and a halt to the fighting, which came amid reports of another deadly strike in nearby Muwasi on Tuesday.

Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, on Tuesday cited the “deeply distressing” scenes from Rafah over the weekend — many of which featured charred bodies in the wreckage of the encampment — in calling for a “swift, comprehensive” investigation.

The Israeli military’s spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told a news conference that an investigation was examining “all possibilities” to determine what had caused the fire.

Israeli jets had fired the “smallest munitions” that they could use, he said, insisting that “our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size.” Those claims could not be independently verified.

Even when the cause of the fire is established, Hagari said, “it won’t make this situation any less tragic.”

Still, he gave no indication that the Israeli military’s operation in Rafah would be interrupted. He did not directly address a question from a reporter about whether tanks had moved into Rafah’s center, saying that Hamas battalions remained in the city and that Israeli forces were operating in a “targeted” way.

In a separate statement, the Israeli military said its troops were operating in the Rafah area, engaging in close-quarters combat, “as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area.”

China expressed “serious concern” about the Israeli military’s actions in Rafah, citing an order by the International Court of Justice last week that appeared to call for Israel to stop its military offensive there. China “opposes any violation of international law” and “strongly urges Israel to listen to the voice of the international community and stop attacking Rafah,” said Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But the wording of the court’s order — which called on Israel to immediately halt any actions in Rafah, “which may inflict upon the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that would bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” — was ambiguous. Israeli officials have argued that the ruling allowed it to continue fighting in Rafah because the military would not inflict such conditions.

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