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Israel opens investigation into strike in Rafah

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What’s happened: Israel’s independent General Staff Fact-Finding and Assessment Mechanism is to investigate Sunday’s IAF strike in Rafah.

  • The airstrike in the Tel Sultan area targeted and killed two senior Hamas officials in the city, including the commander of Hamas’s West Bank headquarters, but tragically resulted in the deaths of dozens of displaced Gazan civilians sheltering in tents when fires spread to the temporary shelters.
  • The Hamas health ministry, in unverified figures, reports 45 Palestinians dying as a result of the strike.
  • The IDF said “the attack was carried out against terrorists who are a target for attack, in accordance with international law, using precision munitions, and based on intelligence indicating the use of the area by Hamas terrorists.”
  • “Before the strike,” it said, “a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians during the strike, including conducting aerial surveillance, the deployment of precise munitions by the IAF, and additional intelligence information. Based on these measures, it was assessed that there would be no expected harm to uninvolved civilians.”
  • “In addition, the strike did not occur in the Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi, to which the IDF has encouraged civilians to evacuate.”
  • Speaking in the Knesset yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “in Rafah, we have evacuated about one million civilians. Tragically, despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants, an incident occurred yesterday. We are investigating it thoroughly and will learn from it, as is our policy and longstanding conduct. For us, any non-combatant hurt is a tragedy; for Hamas, it is a strategy. That is the core difference.”
  • A US National Security Council spokesperson said, “Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians, but, as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”
  • Separately, an Egyptian soldier died yesterday following a clash with Israeli soldiers near the Rafah border crossing.
  • The precise circumstances remain unclear, with Israel suggesting that fire began on the Egyptian side, while Egyptian sources suggest that the Israelis opened fire, possibly in a confrontation with Palestinians.
  • Elsewhere in Gaza, troops located large amounts of military equipment and weaponry and dismantled an explosives manufacturing facility in Jabaliya.
  • The IAF, meanwhile, struck over 75 targets in the Strip on Sunday, including a “launch site in Jabaliya from which launches toward the city of Ashkelon in Israel were carried out throughout the war.”
  • Troops also dismantled an 800-metre-long tunnel in the central Strip.

Context: Israel remains under attack from multiple sources. On Sunday, eight rockets were launched from the Rafah area towards central Tel Aviv, the first time sirens have been heard in Tel Aviv since January.

  • The rockets were fired around 800 metres from where IDF troops where operating in Rafah. This demonstrates that Hamas retains the ability to launch long-range rockets. The timing of the launches is likely due to the advances the IDF is making in Rafah and a desire to use the weapons before troops disable the launch sites.
  • Over 90 Hezbollah rockets were fired from Lebanon on northern Israel yesterday. A barrage of around 30 rockets was fired at Kiryat Shmona yesterday evening and a similar sized barrage fired at Mount Meron.
  • The IDF struck back at the rocket launchers used to launch the Mount Meron barrage.
  • Pro-Iranian Iraqi militias yesterday launched two drones at Eilat, following similar attacks last week. IAF fighter jets and the IDF Aerial Defence Array downed both drones off the coast of the city, with no injuries or damage reported.
  • Sirens sounded in the western Galilee after two UAVs crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon. One was intercepted while the other fell. No injuries or damage were reported.
  • The targets of the Rafah attack were Yassin Rabia, commander of Hamas’s West Bank headquarters, and Khaled Najjar, another senior member of the same unit.
  • Israel said Rabia “managed all of the military arrays of the West Bank headquarters… was involved in the transfer of funds for terror purposes and directed attacks by Hamas operatives.”
  • The IDF’s General Staff handles investigations into both mistakes and potentially criminal actions during wartime.
  • Israel’s Military Advocate General, Major-General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi said yesterday that since the beginning of the war, “approximately seventy investigations have been launched regarding incidents that raised suspicion of criminal offences.”
  • The General Staff Fact-Finding and Assessment Mechanism is independent from the IDF.
  • COGAT reports that humanitarian aid continues to flow into the Gaza Strip. 378 trucks were inspected and transferred yesterday through the Kerem Shalom and Erez West crossings.
  • “78 trucks of flour from the World Food Program were transferred to supply the organisation’s bakery operations across the Gaza Strip, and 154 aid trucks from Egypt made their way from the Rafah crossing to the Kerem Shalom crossing.”
  • Israel has presented Egypt with evidence supporting its version of events around the cross-border fire. Both sides seem keen to put the incident behind them.
  • Tensions between Israel and Egypt were already high due to Egypt’s opposition to an Israeli operation in Rafah. Cairo has feared that fighting in Rafah would lead to pressure on its border from civilians fleeing the area.
  • It has also sought to maintain control over both the Philadelphi corridor and the Rafah-Egypt crossing. There are both financial motivations for this, and a sense of wanting to protect its pride, which would be damaged by revelations that this border has been porous to smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.
  • Since the operation in Rafah began, the IDF has discovered ten smuggling routes along the Philadelphi corridor, an embarrassing example of Egypt being either unable or unwilling to stem the tide of smuggling. Six of the routes have already been decommissioned by the IDF.
  • In over 45 years of a so-called ‘cold peace’ between the two countries, while civilian ties have never transpired as might have been hoped, security cooperation has remained solid. It is in both countries’ interest for this to continue.

Looking ahead: The head of Mossad met with Qatari and US officials over the weekend. They now wait to see if Hamas will return to talks.

  • The basic positions of both Israel and Hamas appear irreconcilable. Israel insists that an agreement not explicitly provide for an end to fighting; Hamas that it does. It remains to be seen if wording can be formulated to satisfy both.
  • A previous Egyptian proposal calls for three stages, the last of which would see a one-year ceasefire committed to by both sides