Dozens reported killed in Israeli strike on Rafah

At least 45 people have been killed, including women and children, in an Israeli air strike on a camp for displaced Palestinians in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

Videos from the scene in the Tal al-Sultan area on Sunday night showed a large explosion and intense fires burning.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had killed two "senior Hamas terrorists" and that it was "investigating the circumstances of the deaths of civilians in the area".

Hours earlier, Hamas had fired eight rockets from Rafah towards Tel Aviv - the first long-range attacks on the central Israeli city since January.

Some 800,000 people have fled Rafah since the start of an Israeli ground operation there three weeks ago, but hundreds of thousands are still believed to be sheltering there.

In a separate development on Monday, Egypt's military said it was investigating a shooting near the border with Gaza, just south of Rafah, in which a member of the Egyptian security forces was killed.

The IDF, whose forces have seized control of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing, said it was discussing a shooting incident with Egyptian authorities.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Sunday’s air strike 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.

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.

"We were sitting at the door of the house safely. Suddenly we heard the sound of a missile,” witness Fadi Dukhan told Reuters news agency.

“We ran and found the street covered in smoke," he said, adding that he and others saw a girl and a young man who had been killed by the blast.

Abed Mohammed al-Attar said his brother and sister-in-law were killed, leaving their children as orphans.

"The [Israeli] army is a liar. There is no security in Gaza. There is no security, not for a child, an elderly man, or a woman,” he said.

The IDF said in a statement on Monday afternoon that Israel’s Military Advocate General, Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi - who is charged with making sure the military acts in accordance with the law - had ordered an investigation into the incident.

Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft had “conducted an intelligence-based strike in the area of Rafah against significant terror targets in the area of Rafah” on Sunday, it said.

The IDF identified them as Yassin Rabia, the chief of staff of the armed group’s fighters in the occupied West Bank, and Khaled Nagar, another senior official in the West Bank wing, who it accused of directing and carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

“Before the strike, a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, including conducting aerial surveillance, the deployment of precise munitions by the IAF, and additional intelligence information,” the statement added.

“Based on these measures, it was assessed that there would be no expected harm to uninvolved civilians... The IDF regrets any harm to uninvolved civilians during combat.”

Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman told the BBC: “It appears from initial reports that somehow a fire broke out, and that sadly took the lives of others."

In a speech on Monday morning, Maj Gen Tomer-Yerushalmi described the incident in Rafah as “very difficult”.

Fire rages at an area designated for displaced Palestinians in Gaza, 26 May
Fire rages at an area designated for displaced Palestinians in the Rafah area on Sunday [Reuters]

The Hamas-run health ministry said on Monday afternoon that at least 45 people, including 23 women, children and elderly, had been killed in the strike on the camp.

A senior official in Gaza’s Hamas-run civil defence agency, Mohammad al-Mughayyir, meanwhile told AFP that the agency’s rescue workers had seen “charred bodies and dismembered limbs”, as well as “cases of amputations, wounded children, women and the elderly”.

Médecins Sans Frontières said overnight that 15 bodies and dozens of casualties had been brought to a trauma stabilisation point which the charity supports.

“We are horrified by this deadly event, which shows once again that nowhere is safe. We continue to call for an immediate and sustained ceasefire in Gaza,” MSF added.

A spokeswoman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa - the largest humanitarian organisation in Gaza - said it had been very difficult to communicate with its teams on the ground in Rafah.

“But what we do know is that there was a serious incident that took place quite close to one of the largest Unrwa buildings in the north-west of Rafah. We’re talking about dozens of people who have been killed and many others injured,” Juliette Touma told the BBC.

“No place is safe in Gaza. No-one is safe, including aid workers.”

The head of the Hamas-run government media office, Ismail al-Thawabta, said the camp was away from recent military action and that the IDF had "called on citizens and displaced persons to go to these safe zones".

However, the IDF said: "The strike did not occur in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi, to which the IDF has encouraged civilians to evacuate."

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was "outraged" by what had happened.

"These operations must stop," he posted on X, formerly Twitter. "I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire."

Qatar meanwhile warned that the strike could complicate its mediation efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

Israelis take cover during rocket fire near Herzliya earlier on 26 May
Israelis take cover during rocket fire near Herzliya on Sunday [Getty Images]

Hours before Sunday's strike, air raid sirens sounded around Tel Aviv as central Israel came under attack by Hamas rockets, fired from south-eastern Rafah.

The eight rockets were mostly intercepted by air defence systems or fell in fields. A house was damaged north of Tel Aviv.

The barrage highlighted the threat Hamas still poses to people across Israel, although there were no reports of injuries.

It also illustrates the challenges the IDF faces as it moves further into southern Gaza to oust Hamas from what it calls its “last major stronghold”.

The military wing of Hamas said it had acted in response to "the massacre of civilians".

Israeli military operations have continued in Rafah despite a ruling on Friday by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The UN's top court said that “in conformity with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, Israel must immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israeli officials said over the weekend that the wording did not rule out all military action. "Israel has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that create living conditions that could cause the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part," National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a statement.

About 1.5 million people had been taking refuge in Rafah before 6 May, when Israel began what it called “targeted” ground operations in eastern areas of the city to destroy the last remaining Hamas battalions and rescue hostages it believes are being held there.

The UN estimates that more than 800,000 people have fled in response to orders from the IDF to evacuate to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, just north-west of Rafah, to the southern city of Khan Younis and the central town of Deir al-Balah.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group's cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,050 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.