Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza city of Rafah kills at least 9 Palestinians, including 6 children

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Palestinian medics treat a wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, early Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)ASSOCIATED PRESS

BY MOHAMMAD JAHJOUH and SAMY MAGDY REUTERS

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s southernmost city killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel’s war against the Islamic militant group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East.

The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza’s civil defense. 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.

The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.

“This is a world devoid of all human values and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press Saturday morning, crying as he cradled and gently rocked the body of Alaa in his arms. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs but women and children.”

No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.

Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, currently hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population of about 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting further north in the territory.

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 materialized so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes on and around the city.

The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and saw about 250 people kidnapped and taken into Gaza. 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 Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 wounded, it said. 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. Although the Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count, they say at least two thirds have been children and women.

The war has sent regional tensions spiraling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.

On Friday, both Iran and Israel played down an apparent 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 has also faced off with the Hezbollah militant group, an Iranian proxy operating from Lebanon, with the two sides there frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have also joined the fray, launching strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

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. The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one who it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation.

Saraya al-Quds, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy gun battles Saturday morning with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, adjacent to Nur Shams. No further details were immediately available. Residents in Tulkarem went went on a general strike Saturday to protest the attack on Nur Shams, with shops, restaurants and government offices all closed.

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.

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