International Outrage Over Israel’s Rafah Tent Massacre Has Not Slowed IDF Offensive

Despite immediately facing outrage from the international community for killing dozens of displaced Palestinians in an attack that set a tent camp in Rafah, Gaza, ablaze, Israel is continuing its deadly military offensive that is destroying so-called safe zones that are housing people with nowhere else to go.

Israeli forces bombed a displacement camp in Tal al-Sultan on Sunday night, engulfing the tents sheltering Palestinians in flames. Gruesome footage showed charred corpses, people burned alive and children’s bodies torn apart. The Israeli attack killed at least 45 people and wounded hundreds more, and it resulted in condemnation and expressions of horror from many in the international community.

Despite the Israel Defense Forces claiming the attack was precision-based, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the bombing was a “tragic mistake.” But less than 48 hours later, Israel bombed another makeshift tent camp in a designated civilian evacuation zone. 

Gaza emergency officials said that Israeli forces attacked a cluster of tents in Al-Mawasi, an overcrowded coastal strip with no infrastructure that Israel had ordered refugees in Rafah to move to for safety. The shelling killed at least 21 people, more than half of them women and girls, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

A Palestinian boy cries next to the bodies of those killed in an Israeli attack Monday west of Rafah, Gaza. At least 21 people were killed as Israeli forces shelled a tent camp in Al-Mawasi, the third such attack on areas designated by Israel as

“People are shocked, people cannot talk, people found theirselves gathering the remains of human bodies, of their beloved ones,” freelance journalist Bisan Owda said in an Instagram video on Tuesday, speaking over the sound of aircraft.

“So, I just cannot describe anything because I’m afraid of looking under my feet because people are still collecting human pieces,” she said before showing one of the blood-spattered tents. “See the blood? See the blood and the shrapnels here and there ― all these shrapnels, the holes in the blanket, killed people inside.”

The IDF denied on social media that it attacked the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi. But Palestinian journalists on the ground in Gaza refuted the military’s claims.

“I went back just now to the last leaflet that Israelis dropped on Rafah, and a place that was targeted right now was Block 2360,” Al Jazeera correspondent Hind Khoudary said Tuesday, referring to the leaflets the IDF airdropped earlier this year to order Palestinians to evacuate Rafah.

“In this leaflet, the Israeli forces mentioned that they’re calling people to evacuate to all the humanitarian areas – to Deir al-Balah, to Khan Younis and Al-Mawasi area ― and one of these areas that was mentioned is Block 2360, which has been targeted right now,” Khoudary said. “So yes, this place was designated as safe, this place was designated as a humanitarian area, according to the last leaflet that was dropped by the Israeli forces on people in Rafah.”

Like Al-Mawasi, the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood is also a designated humanitarian area. Gaza medics say that even after Sunday’s massacre, Israel is still bombing Tal al-Sultan, killing 16 more Palestinians overnight. Owda recorded herself at the scene on Monday, saying: “If death had a smell, I’m smelling it right now.”

Israel said that it will investigate itself over the Sunday attack on the Rafah tent camp ― a move that frequently ends in little to no accountability ― and argued Tuesday that the IDF’s munitions were too small to have directly caused the blaze.

The U.S., which continues to stand firmly beside Israel despite the international condemnation, said Tuesday that it will not change its policy on weapon transfers to the IDF because it still believes the massacres this week are not part of a full-fledged Rafah invasion.

“We don’t want to see a major ground operation. We haven’t seen that at this point,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, despite Reuters reporting that Israeli tanks mounted with machine guns have moved into central Rafah.

Israel’s military campaign, which was launched about eight months ago after Hamas killed an estimated 1,190 people, has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The offensive has also displaced most of the population of 2.3 million, leveled entire neighborhoods, created a starvation crisis and disease epidemic, destroyed most hospitals, and blocked lifesaving humanitarian aid from entering the enclave.

The Sunday strike in Rafah occurred just days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah and after the International Criminal Court’s top war crimes prosecutor announced he was seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Israel and Hamas.