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Israel presses on despite deadly Rafah strike

Ignoring the orders of the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to halt its offensive, the Israeli army has continued its assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip.

On 26 May, an Israeli airstrike on a tent encampment in western Rafah housing forcibly displaced Palestinians killed 45 people, including women and children, drawing international outrage. The strike ignited a fire that tore through the encampment. Many of the victims were burned alive in tents, and more than 200 other people suffered injuries.

Israel has ordered staff and patients to evacuate many of the already hobbled hospitals in Rafah in recent days. Witnesses said an Israeli strike on 27 May outside the gates of one of the hospitals, where victims of the previous day’s bombing were being treated, trapped patients and doctors inside the facility, while a strike on another forced it to shut down.

Israel has ordered Palestinians to evacuate much of eastern Rafah, but the tent camp where the bombing on 26 May took place was not under evacuation orders.

Facing international condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the strike a “tragic mishap”. But commentators pointed out that the strike fits a pattern of how the Israeli military has been operating in Gaza for nearly eight months and that it took place in violation of the ICJ’s orders. The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, said: “To call [the strike] ‘a mistake’ is a message that means nothing for those killed, those grieving, and those trying to save lives.”

Despite global outcry and alarm at the overall humanitarian impact of Israel’s offensive, Israel has continued to heavily bombard Rafah, and its forces are now pushing into the centre of the city. The invasion has ground already limited aid delivery and humanitarian operations throughout Gaza to a near standstill.

About one million people have fled from Rafah since 7 May, when Israel began its offensive. The city was previously hosting around 1.5 million Palestinians – about 1.3 million of them already forcibly displaced from other parts of Gaza by Israel’s military campaign.

Before the Rafah offensive began, we spoke to five Palesetinians about their daily lives in the city and their fears about the impending assault. For their accounts, read: ‘If we survive’: Palestinians in Rafah on fears of an imminent Israeli invasion.

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