Netanyahu calls deadly Israeli strike in Rafah ‘tragic mistake’ as outrage grows

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a “tragic mistake” was made in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians and, according to local officials, killed at least 45 people.

The strike only added to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its military campaign against Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths. Israel insists it adheres to international law even as it faces scrutiny in the world’s top courts, one of which last week demanded that it halt the offensive in Rafah.


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The Israeli military’s top legal official, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said authorities were examining the strike in Rafah and that the military regrets the loss of civilian life.

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Speaking to an Israeli lawyers’ conference, Tomer-Yerushalmi said Israel has launched 70 criminal investigations into possible violations of international law, including the deaths of civilians, the conditions at a detention facility holding suspected militants and the deaths of some inmates in Israeli custody. She said incidents of property crimes and looting were also being examined.

Israel has long maintained it has an independent judiciary capable of investigating and prosecuting abuses. But rights groups say Israeli authorities routinely fail to fully investigate violence against Palestinians and that even when soldiers are held accountable, the punishment is usually light.

Israel has denied allegations of genocide brought against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. Last week, the court ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, a ruling it has no power to enforce.

Separately, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, over alleged crimes linked to the conflict. The ICC only intervenes when it concludes that the state in question is unable or unwilling to properly prosecute such crimes.

Israel says it does its best to adhere to international law. Israeli leaders also say they face an enemy that makes no such commitment, embeds itself in civilian areas and refuses to release Israeli hostages unconditionally.

Hamas triggered the current conflict with its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds about 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a cease-fire last year.

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Around 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Severe hunger is widespread, and U.N. officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Colleen Barry in Rome contributed to this report.