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Israel's strike on Rafah hit refugee camp: Implications

Israel's strike on Rafah hit refugee camp: Implications Photo: Israel recognized the attack on Rafah as a tragic mistake (Getty Images)

On May 26, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in response to Hamas shelling of Tel Aviv. Besides terrorists, more than 40 Palestinian civilians were killed as a result of the attack.


The city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip is the last settlement in the Palestinian enclave that remains under the control of Hamas terrorists. On May 7, the IDF conducted a limited operation in Rafah, taking control of the eponymous crossing point on the Egypt border. After that, the terrorist-controlled part of Gaza was completely surrounded.

The Israeli authorities continue to follow their stated goal to clear Gaza of militants completely. But the full-scale cleansing of Rafah has not yet begun. The evacuation of civilians forced to move to Rafah from other parts of the Gaza Strip continues, with nearly a million people being evacuated. A huge number of refugees remain in the city, living in tent camps.

Circumstances of Rafah shelling

After Israel started the operation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas was forced to focus on defensive actions. But on May 26 - for the first time in four months - the militants launched eight rockets from Rafah at Tel Aviv.

The IDF retaliated with an air strike on Rafah, killing two high-ranking Hamas commanders. According to the Israeli army, these militants were planning terrorist attacks in the West Bank.

But Israeli bombs fell about 40 meters from the refugee tent camp. A fire broke out, killing more than 40 Palestinian civilians.

How Israel and the world reacted

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a tragic mistake. Israeli authorities have launched an investigation that may result in criminal charges.

The shelling of Rafah caused a sharply negative reaction in the world. Not only some Arab countries and Türkiye, but also European leaders made strong statements.

"I condemn this in the strongest terms," said European diplomat Josep Borrell. Foreign ministers of Germany, Spain, Ireland, and other EU member states made similar statements.

Against this background, the official reaction of the United States was relatively mild.

"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 as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians," a US Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.

How Rafah shelling will affect the Gaza Strip

According to Axios, the White House is currently analyzing whether the Israeli authorities have crossed the red lines outlined by President Joe Biden.

As the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip progressed, Washington became increasingly critical of its partner's actions. Biden previously stated that if the IDF invaded Rafah, the United States would stop supplying Israel with weapons.

Shortly before the airstrike on Rafah, the White House believed that it had been able to influence the Israeli operational plans so that their operation in the southern Gaza Strip would not lead to massive civilian casualties. After what happened on May 26, the pressure on Biden to take a tougher stance on Israel's actions is likely to grow.

International pressure on Israel is also likely to increase. On May 24, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to cease hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders.

Meanwhile, the situation in Rafah remains tense. On May 27, an Egyptian border guard opened fire on IDF soldiers on the Palestinian side of the border and was killed by return fire.

Sources: Axios, The Times of Israel, Al Jazeera, and statements by Israeli and European officials.