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Airstrike on Rafah leads to international outcry and condemnation of Israel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

International condemnation continues in response to an Israeli airstrike on Rafah that killed at least 45 people, that according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The strike hit Palestinians who were sheltering in a makeshift encampment for displaced people in an area they thought was safe. Tents and people were burned.

MARTIN: With us now is NPR international correspondent Aya Batrawy who is following this from Dubai. And please take note of this - we are going to hear about graphic descriptions of injuries to children in this report and the sound of an explosion. Now, with that being said, Aya, thank you so much for being here.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about the situation on the ground there?

BATRAWY: Well, Israeli airstrikes continue to pound Gaza basically from the north to the south. But this airstrike on Rafah really stands out for a couple of reasons. It is the single deadliest attack on the city since Israel launched its offensive on Rafah against Hamas three weeks ago. Also, the attack struck families in makeshift tents. These were plastic tarps that they were using as shelter. They caught fire from the Israeli airstrike and shrapnel cut right through. It really was the stuff of nightmares. Abu Mohammed (ph), a witness in Rafah, explains why.

ABU MOHAMMED: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: He says he found one kid with his stomach sliced and intestines out. Another child had been decapitated. NPR's producer Anas Baba, he says he also saw children and body parts after the attack. Now, Israel's military says it used precise munitions and didn't expect harm to civilians from this attack, which they say targeted two Hamas figures who oversee operations in the West Bank. Israel's prime minister called it a, quote, "tragic mistake." But the U.N. relief chief, Martin Griffiths, says to call this a mistake means absolutely nothing for those killed and grieving. And here's UNRWA's director of planning, Sam Rose, talking to NPR from Gaza.

SAM ROSE: Regardless, when you attack a tented camp such as this, have we said all along there will be inevitable civilian casualties. It really does leave us numb and personally leaves me quite sick to the stomach.

MARTIN: The health ministry in Gaza says now that the overall death toll from this military campaign has now surpassed some 36,000 people. The U.N.'s top court ordered Israel to halt its offensive on Rafah just a few days ago. Is there any sign that Israel is changing course here?

BATRAWY: Just yesterday in Rafah, Gaza's health ministry said two employees of the Kuwaiti hospital there, which is one of the last functioning hospitals in Rafah and all of Gaza, were killed at the gate of the hospital just hours after this tent encampment was struck. This hospital is also closing down now as a result of that attack. And last night, first responders in Rafah reported seven women and children killed in an attack on another house in Rafah. And there were more deadly airstrikes throughout Rafah. Have a listen to what it sounded like last night in the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

BATRAWY: You know, our producer Anas Baba is there. And he says this went on for hours. So families grabbed their belongings in the middle of the night, they fled on foot, adding to the roughly 1 million people who've already left Rafah this month, but they have nowhere to go.

MARTIN: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks to Israel's parliament yesterday that his government will not yield or surrender or end the war before achieving all of Israel's goals, which is to eliminate Hamas. And remember that, you know, Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people there. Hamas is still holding hostages. But do you have any sense of whether Netanyahu is feeling this international pressure?

BATRAWY: Yeah. He's under pressure at home and abroad. But also, yesterday, you know, there was an exchange of gunfire between Egyptian and Israeli soldiers for the first time since this war began, and an Egyptian soldier was actually killed. So Egypt says, you know, as this war in Gaza drags on and widens in Rafah, the dangers of its own troops now being pulled into this conflict to defend its borders is also growing.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, thank you.

BATRAWY: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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