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Israeli strikes hit Rafah after Hamas fires rockets toward Tel Aviv

People inspect damage and recover items from their homes following Israeli air strikes on March 4 in Rafah, Gaza.  (Ahmad Hasaballah)
By Hajar Harb, Niha Masih, Sarah Dadouch and Adela Suliman Washington Post

Dozens of Palestinians were feared killed and wounded after Israeli strikes hit a camp for the displaced in northwestern Rafah, eyewitnesses and first responders said late Sunday, in a part of the city outside Israel’s designated evacuation zone.

The exact toll from the camp in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood was unclear. A spokesman for the Palestine Red Crescent Society said rescue workers were still working to evacuate the injured to hospitals and identify the dead. Video posted by local journalists showed charred bodies being pulled from the flaming wreckage.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed carrying out an airstrike in Rafah, saying it killed two senior Hamas officials, including Yassin Rabia, the commander of the group’s operations in the West Bank.

“The IDF is aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited, several civilians in the area were harmed,” the military said, adding that “the incident is under review.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said late Sunday its field hospital in Rafah was receiving an influx of patients seeking treatment for burns and other injuries and that other hospitals were reporting the same. “Our teams are doing their best to save lives,” the ICRC said in a statement. “It’s imperative to protect civilians.”

Earlier Sunday, the IDF said eight rockets were launched from Rafah toward central Israel and a number had been intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome defense system.

Hamas’ military arm, the al-Qassam Brigades, said it had launched projectiles toward Tel Aviv, the first such barrage in four months, stating that the move was in response to “massacres perpetrated on civilians.”

Uriel Goldberg, a spokesman for Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency services, said there were no serious injuries. Israel’s opposition leader Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, told reporters Sunday that the rocket attacks “prove that the IDF must operate in every place Hamas still operates” and vowed to make the group “pay for their crimes.”

The International Court of Justice ordered Israel on Friday to “immediately halt” its military operation in Rafah, which has forced more than 800,000 people to flee the southern city. Israeli officials quickly rejected the order; the IDF said Sunday that it killed an unspecified number of militants who attempted to attack IDF troops and located tunnel shafts and weapons in Rafah.

The Biden administration has so far been silent on the ICJ ruling. “What we’re going to be looking at is whether there is a lot of death and destruction from this operation, or if it is more precise and proportional,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday.

Humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza resumed Sunday via Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing, with a convoy of 200 trucks carrying fuel as well as 15 to 20 tons of aid, Egyptian state-run TV channel Al Qahera reported. Aid groups say the humanitarian situation in Gaza has deteriorated rapidly this month following the closure of the Rafah border crossing, the main entry point for both aid and commercial supplies, after Israel seized control of the Palestinian side of the crossing as part of its offensive.

President Biden called Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi on Friday to urge him to send aid trucks through Kerem Shalom. “This will help save lives,” the White House said in a statement, adding that Biden “expressed his full commitment to support efforts to reopen the Rafah crossing with arrangements acceptable to both Egypt and Israel.”

Elsewhere, the IDF denied a Hamas claim that its soldiers were abducted in Gaza after a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing said fighters had ambushed Israeli troops in Jabalya, in northern Gaza.

The spokesman, who uses the name Abu Obaida, said in a statement that the fighters lured Israeli troops into a tunnel, blew it up, and “killed, wounded and captured” some of the soldiers. He did not say how many troops had been captured. The IDF said in response, “there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted.” Last week, the IDF recovered bodies of three Israeli hostages during a night operation in Jabalya.

What else to know

• Gaza has been experiencing a disruption in connectivity for more than 24 hours, cybersecurity monitoring group NetBlocks told The Washington Post. Paltel, one of the two telecommunications providers in the territory, reported an internet outage in Gaza City and the north on Saturday night.

• Four U.S. Army vessels supporting the American-built pier in Gaza were hit by rough seas, U.S. Central Command said Saturday. Two of the vessels were beached on the Israeli coast, while two others were anchored by the pier, according to Centcom. “No injuries have been reported and the pier remains fully functional,” Centcom added.

• At least 35,984 people have been killed and 80,643 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 282 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operation in Gaza.

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Heba Farouk Mahfouz, Lior Soroka and Alon Rom contributed to this report.