What happened when Israel attacked Rafah?

Israel has attacked twice since Sunday, killing tens of people in horrific circumstances.

A young girl being treated at Kuwait Hospital following an Israeli attack on Rafah
A young girl being treated at Kuwaiti Hospital following an Israeli attack on Rafah, May 27, 2024 [Screengrab/Sanad/Al Jazeera]

Thirteen out of 21 people killed by Israel in an air strike on the so-called “safe area” of al-Mawasi were civilian women and girls, Al Jazeera’s Hind Khoudary reported on Tuesday.

This was the second attack since Sunday, with a horrifying strike on Sunday night setting displaced people’s shelters ablaze not too far from Tuesday’s strike.

The world had watched, aghast, on Monday as displaced Palestinians were forced to dig through smouldering remains with their bare hands – looking for bodies, or injured people, or in some cases, a few scraps of food they could salvage to keep their families going a bit longer.

As reports further clarify what happened on Tuesday, here are the details of Sunday’s attack:

When and where was this attack?

The attack happened at night on May 26.

It was inflicted on an encampment of makeshift shelters just north of Rafah city, in an area called Tal as-Sultan

It came after United States President Joe Biden said a “major offensive” by Israel on Rafah would be a red line.

Palestinians search through burning debris after an Israeli strike on a displacement camp in Rafah on May 27, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

What happened in the attack?

Many shelters burst into flames with their occupants still inside.

The Gaza Government Media Office said Israel dropped seven 900kg (2,000-pound) bombs as well as missiles on the displacement camp.

The Israeli army said it targeted Rafah with “precision munitions”, and that a nearby fuel tank led to the subsequent fire.

Horrific videos emerged of the aftermath – the most notable was of a man holding up the corpse of a young child without a head.

Al Jazeera’s Sanad Verification Agency was able to obtain images of fragments believed to be of the weaponry used in this attack. The photos the agency obtained show the tail of a GBU-39/B small-diameter bomb, which is made by Boeing. The GBU-39/B includes a jet engine taken from the M26 unguided missile.

Who were the people killed?

Thousands of civilians had been sheltering in the Tal as-Sultan area, seeking some minimal protection from the continuous Israeli attacks across Gaza.

The Israeli government had not issued any orders to evacuate the area before it attacked.

Palestinians flee the area of Tal al-Sultan in Rafah
Palestinians flee Tal as-Sultan following Israeli strikes on May 28, 2024 [Eyad Baba/AFP]

How many people died?

Israel killed at least 45 people in the offensive.

The total number of injured people is hard to determine, as the hospital where casualties were taken has closed after a subsequent Israeli drone attack on its entrance that killed two members of staff.

How did they die?

Some people died from the impact of the bomb.

Some people “reportedly burned to death”, according to Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes
Smoke rises after Israeli strikes in Rafah, May 28, 2024 [Hatem Khaled/Reuters]

What were they doing when they died?

Accounts from Rafah say that many of the dead were preparing to go to sleep when the attack occurred.

Why is Israel doing this?

Initially, the Israeli army claimed it had struck “a Hamas compound in Rafah in which significant Hamas terrorists were operating”.

It added it was “aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited several civilians in the area were harmed”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since said the attack was “a tragic mistake.”

“Despite our best effort not to harm those not involved, unfortunately a tragic error happened last night. We are investigating the case,” Netanyahu said.

The attack came two days after the ICJ ordered Israel to halt its offensive on Rafah.

Palestinians prepare to flee
Palestinians prepare to flee Tal as-Sultan after Israeli strikes on May 28, 2024 [Eyad Baba/AFP]

Is the international community going to do anything?

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is set to convene an emergency meeting over the attack on Rafah.

To date, the United States has vetoed every UNSC proposal aimed at holding Israel accountable.

Source: Al Jazeera