Israeli airstrike in Gaza’s Rafah kills 9, including six children, amid Middle East tensions

Israel Hamas war, Rafah
Image Source : AP An explosion during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.

Gaza: An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s Rafah city, where more than half of the enclave’s population has taken shelter from the six-month-long war, has killed at least nine people, including six children. Despite a recent increase in the tensions plaguing the Middle East over Israel’s recent confrontations with Iran, the country has remained undeterred from pursuing its offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighbourhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza’s civil defence. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man were taken to Rafah’s Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the hospital’s records showed. At the hospital, relatives cried and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.

“This is a world devoid of all human values and morals. They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs but women and children,” said Ahmed Barhoum, who lost his relatives, his wife and their five-year-old daughter in the Israeli strike. No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.

Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, the Israeli government has insisted for months that it intends to push a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas militants are holed up. Such a ground operation has not materialised so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes on and around the city.

37 people killed in the last 24 hours

Meanwhile, the Gaza Health Ministry on Saturday said that the bodies were brought to the hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours, along with 68 wounded. The latest figures bring the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said. The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on October 7 that left about 1,200 people dead and over 250 abducted.

Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have been confirmed to now be dead, either killed on Oct. 7 or having died in captivity. The war has sent regional tensions spiralling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.

Both Iran and Israel downplayed a suspected Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating the two sides were pulling back from what could have become an all-out conflict. Over the past several weeks, an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria and was followed by an unprecedented Iranian missile barrage on Israel.

Israel’s tussle with Iranian proxies

Israel has long considered Iran to be its greatest enemy — citing the Islamic Republic’s calls for Israel’s destruction, its controversial nuclear program and its support for hostile proxies across the Middle East. Things further worsened on April 1 when Iran claimed Israel attacked its embassy in Syria, which killed 12 people including a high-profile military commander. Amir-Abdollahian warned that if Israel retaliated and acted against the interests of Iran, Tehran’s next response would be immediate and at the maximum level.

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Friday said Tehran was investigating an overnight attack on Iran, adding that so far a link to Israel had not been proven as he downplayed the strike. “They’re … more like toys that our children play with, not drones… It has not been proved to us that there is a connection between these and Israel,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

Even before the events that brought decades of shadow war between Iran and Israel out in the open, Israel has traded fire with Iran-backed forces in the Middle East, apart from Hamas. Israel has been engaged with the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, trading frequent rocket and drone attacks at the border. Yemen’s Houthi rebels had also joined the fray by attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Tension has also been high in the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli military raid Friday in the Nur Shams refugee camp killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli military, Palestinian health officials and a militant group. Palestinian health authorities said one of those killed was a 15-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli fire.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials say. Israel stages frequent raids into towns and cities in the volatile territory. The dead have included militants, but also stone-throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed in attacks by Israeli settlers.

(with inputs from agencies)

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