Israel hits Rafah refugee camp, 37 dead, local health officials say Reuters


©Reuters. Smoke rises during an Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas, seen from a tent camp protecting displaced Palestinians in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on February 11, 2019.


By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose

DOHA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed 37 people and injured dozens, local health officials said on Monday, after U.S. President Joe Biden told Israel not to attack Rafah without a credible plan to protect civilians.

The heavy shelling caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the attacks began, residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app said. Some feared that Israel had begun its ground offensive on Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the attacks, hitting two mosques and several houses, according to residents.

The Israeli army said on Monday it had conducted a “series of attacks” in southern Gaza that have now “concluded”, without providing further details.

Before previous assaults on Gaza cities, the Israeli army had ordered civilians to leave without preparing any specific evacuation plans.

Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of about 1 million people taking refuge there, the White House said.

Humanitarian agencies say an attack on Rafah would be catastrophic. It is the last relatively safe place in an enclave devastated by the Israeli military offensive.

Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about 45 minutes, days after the American leader said Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip had been “exaggerated” and expressed grave concern about the growing civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave.

Netanyahu’s office said it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it said were deployed there.

By Israeli counts, Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapped at least 250 during the Oct. 7 incursion. Israel responded with a military attack on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Netanyahu said in an interview aired Sunday that “enough” of the 132 remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza were alive to justify Israel’s war in the region.

The Israeli army said two hostages were freed overnight in a joint operation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet and the Special Police Unit in Rafah.

Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, abducted by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, were in good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer medical complex, the military said.

Hamas-run Aqsa television on Sunday quoted a senior Hamas leader as saying that any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah would “blow up” hostage exchange negotiations.

Egypt warned on Sunday of the “terrible consequences” of a potential Israeli military attack in Rafah, which is close to its border.

“Egypt called for the need to unite all international and regional efforts to prevent the Palestinian city of Rafah from being targeted,” its Foreign Ministry added in a statement.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Doha, Emily Rose in Jerusalem and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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