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Netanyahu Vows Continuation of Gaza War Amid Global Outcry Over Rafah Air Strike

Netanyahu has defended the airstrike that killed 45 Palestinians, and vows continuation of Gaza war despite international condemnation.

At least 45 people were killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, while hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures, and shrapnel wounds.

Mr Netanyahu described the strike as a “tragic mishap” but added, “I don’t intend to end the war before every goal has been achieved.” He said it was vital that Israel took “every precaution possible” to protect civilians, and insisted that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were using their “best efforts not to harm those uninvolved” in the conflict.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday, at Algeria’s request, to discuss the Rafah strike. In a statement on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the strike had “killed scores of innocent civilians who were only seeking shelter from this deadly conflict.” He added, “There is no safe place in Gaza. This horror must stop.”

Mr Netanyahu, speaking in the Israeli parliament, was interrupted by occasional heckles from family members of hostages taken by Hamas during the 7 October attack, some of whom have been critical of him for failing to strike a deal for the return of their loved ones. He persisted, “In Rafah, we already evacuated about one million non-combatant residents and despite our utmost effort not to harm non-combatants, something unfortunately went tragically wrong.” He assured, “We are investigating the incident and will reach conclusions because this is our policy.”

International organisations lined up to condemn the strike, with the EU insisting that Israel respect a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last week to halt strikes on Rafah. The bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called Sunday’s strike “horrifying.”

Despite the ICJ ruling, Israel pledged to continue with the invasion of Rafah, with officials insisting the ruling left room for the attack to comply with international law. The UN’s human rights chief, Volker Turk, said the attack suggested that there had been “no apparent change in the methods and means of warfare used by Israel that have already led to so many civilian deaths.”

Israel launched Sunday’s Rafah attack hours after Hamas’s first missile attack on Tel Aviv in several months. IDF officials said the attack on Rafah had killed two senior Hamas commanders and that it was investigating the deaths of civilians in the area. However, the Palestinian Red Crescent said the air strike had targeted tents for displaced people near a UN facility in Tal al-Sultan, about 2km (1.2 miles) north-west of the centre of Rafah.

Videos from the scene in the Tal al-Sultan area on Sunday night showed a large explosion and intense fires burning. Graphic footage showed a number of structures ablaze next to a banner saying “Kuwaiti Peace Camp ‘1’”, as well as first responders and bystanders carrying several bodies.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Monday that one of its facilities had received at least 28 dead people, including women and children, following the strike. It treated another 180 wounded Palestinians, with most suffering from serious shrapnel wounds, fractures, traumatic injuries, and burns. MSF rejected Israeli reports that the strike had been precise, saying the “attack on a populated camp in a so-called ‘safe zone’ in Rafah shows the complete disregard for the lives of civilians in Gaza.”

The US called the images “heartbreaking” but insisted Israel had a right to defend itself. A White House national security spokesperson said, “Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians,” but conceded that “Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”

Israeli officials spent much of Monday scrambling to find out what went wrong in Rafah. Israel is under pressure to explain how a “precision strike” using specialised munitions with “reduced warheads” resulted in a firestorm which killed dozens and injured scores. Top military officials, including Maj Gen Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi, the IDF’s advocate general, promised a thorough investigation, and a more detailed explanation is expected.

However, whether this incident marked a turning point in the campaign was another matter. Mr Netanyahu said he remained committed to what he called “total victory” in Rafah, so there was no sign that Sunday’s disaster would change his mind.

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza began after gunmen from Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 252 others back to Gaza as hostages. More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war since then, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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