Rafah camp fire was caused by ‘secondary explosion’, says Israel

A young boy puts his hand through a hole in a wall caused by the ongoing conflict in Rafah on Tuesday.
A young boy climbs a broken wall to survey damage left by Israel's bombing - Anadolu/Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Rafah camp fire that killed dozens of Palestinians was not caused by one of its missile strikes but a blaze that spread from a “secondary explosion”, Israel said on Tuesday.

The Sunday night strike has drawn waves of international condemnation after at least 45 people were killed, according to officials from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, with some burned alive in their tents.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the strike a “tragic mistake” as the European Union warned of economic sanctions.

In an effort at damage control, the Israeli military on Tuesday insisted that it only fired small munitions at Hamas commanders around 200m from where the fire broke out.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the fire broke out as a result of a secondary explosion near the original target.

Daniel Hagari, the IDF’s chief spokesman, told reporters that the Israeli army dropped two 17kg bombs – “the smallest ammunition possible” that can be carried by jets – to kill two Hamas commanders.

Mr Hagari referred to IDF surveillance videos showing the IDF dropping the bombs on “exactly the compound of Hamas terrorists” before a blaze started at a building nearby. The IDF did not release the footage.

“Our ammunition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” Mr Hagari said, adding that investigators were looking into the source of the blaze and assumed there was weaponry stored nearby.

The officials also said there was no crater visible that would point to possible impact from the kind of larger missile needed to cause the extensive damage.

Reports of new attacks on civilians in Rafah emerged on Tuesday afternoon as at least seven people were killed in an airstrike on another area taken up by the tents, residents and medics told Reuters.

A still from video taken at the camp in Rafah where fire broke out after an Israeli attack
A still from video taken at the camp in Rafah where fire broke out after an Israeli attack - Reuters TV

Footage from the scene showed Palestinians frantically attending to the victims.

The attacks on Rafah have reignited criticism of Israel’s military offensive in the southern city, where more than one million Palestinians had been taking shelter.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks reportedly rolled into the centre of the city, with eyewitnesses telling local media several were spotted near Al Awda mosque.

Footage released by the Al Jazeera TV channel showed several tanks advancing into Rafah.

The Israeli military on Tuesday announced it has deployed an additional brigade to Rafah, signalling it is not going to back down in its assault on the city where it says Hamas’ leadership and four remaining battalions are hiding.

More than one million people have fled Rafah since the IDF issued evacuation orders in early May, according to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, with many moving to the badly damaged north of the enclave.

On Tuesday, Ireland formally recognised a Palestinian state, saying it will promptly establish “full diplomatic relations” with Palestine and will send an ambassador to Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Spain and Norway are expected to follow suit shortly.

Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, in a televised address on Tuesday said his country will recognise Palestine in the 1967 borders, or before Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel reacted angrily to the announcement, with its foreign minister Israel Katz comparing Spain’s deputy prime minister to the Oct 7 mastermind Yahya Sinwar and the leader of Iran seeking the “elimination of Israel”.

Later in the day, Mr Katz told the visiting Hungarian foreign minister that the countries recognising a Palestinian state were “feeding the terror monster” and “abandoning the hostages” captured by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct 7 last year.

03:39 PM BST

Today’s live blog is now closed

That’s all for today. Thanks for following along. Here is a summary of the day:

  • Ireland, Spain and Norway officially recognised a state of Palestine on Tuesday. Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris said his government had made the move to keep a two-state solution alive at a time when Israel was “bombing it into oblivion”. Jerusalem responded that the move “rewarded” terrorism. Denmark’s parliament voted down a Bill calling for Palestinian recognition.

  • Irish officials also claimed that “significant discussions” were going on in Brussels over imposing sanctions on Israel over its offensive on Rafah. Ireland’s foreign minister admitted though that there was not yet any consensus on the issue.

  • Israel has said that the bombs it dropped on Hamas targets in Rafah on Sunday could not have caused the devastating fire that killed several dozen civilians. The IDF blamed the blaze on a “secondary explosion” and said it was looking into whether weapons were stored in the area.

  • The IDF has sent a third brigade into battle in Rafah and pushed tanks further into the city. The UN says that a million people have fled the city since fighting began earlier this month.

  • Hezbollah has sent WhatsApp messages to local leaders in the north of Israel threatening to destroy all the houses on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border unless the IDF withdraws from Gaza.

03:34 PM BST

IDF sends extra troops into Rafah

Israel’s army chiefs have deployed an additional brigade to the Rafah offensive and ordered tanks to move into the centre of the city in the south of the Gaza Strip.

The deployment of an additional brigade to the battle area in Rafah means that the Israeli army now has three brigades operating in the city.

The IDF confirmed that its soldiers had engaged and killed “many” Hamas terrorists along the border area to Egypt over the past day, where they discovered tunnels and weapons depots.

Residents of Rafah reported seeing Israeli tanks moving into the city centre on Tuesday as well as witnessing a barrage of air strikes hitting the city.

Local officials say that the air strikes hit a tent village that was housing refugees from other parts of the war-torn strip, killing sixteen people.

03:07 PM BST

Medical evacuations from Gaza no longer possible

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that more people will die because sick people can longer be evacuated from the Gaza Strip since Israel started its offensive on the Rafah border region.

Since Israel launched a military offensive in Rafah in early May, “there’s been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations,” said WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris.

The agency estimates that there are now typically “around 10,000 people who need to be evacuated... to receive the much-needed medical treatment elsewhere.”

03:00 PM BST

Report: Iran and Hamas agree strict negotiating line at Raisi funeral

Senior Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthi officials met with Iranian leaders at the funeral for late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi last week where they discussed tactics for the war with Israel, according to a report in The Times of Israel.

Tehran and its proxies decided that Hamas should dig in its heels and not make concessions or release hostages until Israel withdraws completely from the Gaza Strip.

The terror groups are reportedly convinced the the Biden administration will pressure Israel to end the war ahead of US elections in November.

Hezbollah have been supporting Hamas by firing rockets at the north of Israel, while the Houthis have interrupted shipping in the Red Sea.

02:46 PM BST

Denmark votes against recognising Palestinian state

Denmark’s parliament has voted down a Bill brought by four Left-wing parties to recognise a Palestinian state.

“We cannot recognise an independent Palestinian state, for the sole reason that the preconditions are not really there,” foreign minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said when the Bill was first debated in parliament in April.

“We cannot support this resolution, but we wish that there will come a day where we can,” Rasmussen, who was not present at the vote on Tuesday, added.

The vote comes on the same day that Ireland, Spain and Norway formally recognised a Palestinian state.

02:04 PM BST

Gaza officials: 16 more deaths in Rafah air strikes

New strikes in the same western Tel al-Sultan district of Rafah have killed at least 16 Palestinians over the past day, according to the Palestinian Civil Defense and the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Residents have reported an escalation of fighting in the southern Gaza city, where IDF tanks have taken up position in the city centre.

01:59 PM BST

Israeli military: deadly Rafah fire caused by ‘secondary explosion’

The Israeli military has said that an initial investigation into a strike that sparked a deadly fire in Rafah on Sunday has found the blaze was caused by a secondary explosion.

Daniel Hagari, the IDF’s chief military spokesman, said the military fired two 37-pound munitions that targeted two senior Hamas terrorists.

The munitions would have been too small to ignite a fire on their own, he claimed.

Hagari said the army is looking into the possibility that weapons were stored in the area.

The fire killed at least 45 people, according to Hamas.

01:39 PM BST

A dozen Israeli soldiers wounded in intense fighting

Israeli media are reporting that 13 IDF soldiers have been wounded in combat over the past day. None of the soldiers are believed to be in a life-threatening condition.

The IDF has said that it engaged Hamas terrorists in the so-called Philadelphi Corridor along the border with Egypt, where they claim to have killed many Hamas fighters as well as discovering tunnels and weapons.

The IDF say their main objective in the area is to find and destroy tunnels.

12:59 PM BST

Irish Taoiseach: Israel trying to ‘bomb two-state solution into oblivion’

Here is some more detail from Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris on Palestinian recognition and possibility of sanctions against Israel.

“This is an important moment and I think it sends a signal to the world that there are practical actions you can take as a country to help keep the hope and destination of a two-state solution alive at a time when others are trying to sadly bomb it into oblivion,” Harris said in announcing recognition of Palestinian statehood on Tuesday.

On the topic of sanctions against Israel, he also said that “Europe could be doing a hell of a lot more”.

Ireland’s government said that it will appoint an ambassador and create a full embassy in Ramallah in the West Bank.

12:41 PM BST

Report: IDF pushes into Rafah city centre

Israeli tanks moved into the city centre of Rafah on Tuesday.

Several tanks were spotted near Al-Awda mosque, a central Rafah landmark, witnesses told Reuters.

Residents also reported that Israeli tanks are now stationed on and around the Zurub hilltop, a high ground overlooking western Rafah, having advanced from the area near the Egyptian border crossing where the IDF launched an incursion three weeks ago.

Shelling also continued in the area of Tel Al-Sultan, where a strike targeting Hamas terrorists caused the deaths of at least 45 civilians on Sunday.

“Tank shells are falling everywhere in Tel Al-Sultan. Many families have fled their houses in western Rafah under fire throughout the night,” one resident told Reuters over a chat app.

12:22 PM BST

Norway calls Palestine recognition ‘special day’

Norway has confirmed that it has now officially recognised a state of Palestine.

Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide hailed the move as “a special day for Norway-Palestine relations”.

“Norway has been one of the most fervent defenders of a Palestinian state for more than 30 years,” he said.

Israel has slammed the decision as a “reward” for Hamas.

12:09 PM BST

Merchant vessel listing after being hit by missiles off coast of Yemen

A merchant vessel off the Yemeni coast is taking on water and tilting after being hit by three missiles, British security firm Ambrey said on Tuesday.

The vessel issued a distress call stating it had sustained damage to the cargo hold and was taking on water about 54 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said separately on Tuesday that it had received a report of an incident 31 nautical miles southwest of Hodeidah.

Yemen’s Houthi militia have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea region since November as Iran’s proxies have stepped up attacks on Israel and its western allies.

11:58 AM BST

Palestinians flee from Rafah as IDF moves in

Residents of the southern town of Rafah packed their possessions and fled on Tuesday as Israel’s defence forces upped their campaign against Hamas terrorists in the city.

IDF tanks have reportedly entered the city centre, while air strikes against Hamas positions have continued.

Palestinians leave the area of Tal al-Sultan in Rafah with their belongings.
Palestinians leave the area of Tal al-Sultan in Rafah with their belongings. - EYAD BABA/AFP
A truck carrying people with their belongings leaves Rafah on Tuesday.
A truck carrying people with their belongings leaves Rafah on Tuesday. - AFP
A man inspects the charred remnants of a car hit by an Israeli airstrike.
A man inspects the charred remnants of a car hit by an Israeli airstrike. - Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg
Pharmacists sell medicine from a stall in Khan Yunis where they have taken refuge from fighting in Rafah.
Pharmacists sell medicine from a stall in Khan Yunis where they have taken refuge from fighting in Rafah. - Anadolu

11:26 AM BST

Powerful Iraqi cleric calls for US embassy to be closed ‘without bloodshed’

Influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr has used the death of civilians in an airstrike in Gaza to renew his demand for the US embassy in Baghdad to be closed.

Sadr condemned the Israeli strike, which reportedly killed 45 civilians, and Washington’s “shameless” support for “genocide” in Gaza.

“I reiterate my demand to expel” the US ambassador and “close the embassy through diplomatic means without bloodshed,” he said in a statement on X.

Sadr led a militia, the Mahdi Army, that fought US forces after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and he still wields influence in the country today.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during news conference in Najaf, Iraq
Moqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, in 2022. - REUTERS/ REUTERS

11:10 AM BST

Hezbollah threatens to turn north Israeli towns to rubble

Municipal leaders in northern Israel have received messages via Whatsapp purportedly from Hezbollah which threaten that “there will be no houses left” in border towns if the IDF doesn’t pull out of Gaza.

One message stated: “To the settlers of the north, we only target the houses where soldiers have settled. If the fighting in Gaza doesn’t stop, there will be no houses left.”

“You must understand that nothing will change here in the north after September 1 if the attacks on Gaza don’t stop,” stated another message, according to a report in The Times of Israel.

The Iran-linked terror group started to attack Israel a day after Hamas’ attacks on Oct 7, leading to the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes.

Jerusalem has hinted that it may escalate its retaliation against the group in the summer, with defence minister Yoav Gallant promising to return displaced residents to their homes.

10:49 AM BST

Lord Cameron calls for ‘swift’ probe of civilian deaths in Rafah

David Cameron, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, has called for the IDF to quickly look into what caused the deaths of at least 45 civilians in an airstrike at a refugee camp in Rafah on Sunday.

“Deeply distressing scenes following the air strikes in Rafah this weekend. The IDF’s investigation must be swift, comprehensive and transparent,” Cameron wrote on X.

“We urgently need a deal to get hostages out and aid in, with a pause in fighting to allow work towards a long-term sustainable ceasefire.”

A man inspects the charred remnants of a car hit by an Israeli airstrike.
A man inspects the charred remnants of a car hit by an Israeli airstrike. - Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg

10:30 AM BST

Iranian parliament re-elects hardliner as speaker

Iran’s parliament re-elected hardliner Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf as its speaker on Tuesday, reaffirming its hard-Right makeup in the wake of a helicopter crash that killed the country’s president and foreign minister.

Of 287 lawmakers voting, 198 backed Qalibaf to retain the position he first took in 2021.

Qalibaf is known for ordering a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999 while he was city mayor.

He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against Iranian students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.

Iran is to hold presidential elections in June after president Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash earlier this month.

09:56 AM BST

EU holds ‘significant discussions’ on Israel sanctions

The European Union has discussed for the first time whether to sanction Israel unless it stops its military operations in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, Ireland’s foreign minister has said.

“For the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I’ve seen significant discussion on sanctions and ‘what if,’” Micheál Martin told Politico.

He added that there is “some distance between people articulating the need for a sanctions-based approach if Israel does not comply with the ICJ’s ruling … to agreement in the Council meeting, given all of the different perspectives there.”

Palestinians inspect their tents after an Israeli airstrike hit the area on Sunday.
Palestinians inspect their tents after an Israeli airstrike hit the area on Sunday. - HAITHAM IMAD/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

09:27 AM BST

Israel accuses Spain of incitement to genocide of Jews

In a growing diplomatic row between Jerusalem and Madrid, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz has accused Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez of supporting the incitement to genocide of Jews.

“Khamenei, Sinwar, and deputy PM Yolanda Diaz call for the elimination of Israel and for the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian terror state from the river to the sea,” Katz wrote on X.

“Sanchez, when you don’t fire your deputy and declare recognition of a Palestinian state — you are a partner to incitement to the genocide of Jews and to war crimes,” Katz wrote.

Spanish deputy prime minister Yolanda Diaz ended a speech last week with the slogan “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” and also accused Israel of carrying out a genocide against the Palestinians.

08:56 AM BST

Pictures: people in Europe protest in solidarity with the Palestinians

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Paris on Monday evening to protest against Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

The protesters gathered by the Saint Augustin area in the French capital’s 8th district, not far from the Israeli embassy.

Rallies were also seen in other European cities.

Young boys wave a Palestinian flag at a protest in Burnley, England, on Monday.
Young boys wave a Palestinian flag at a protest in Burnley, England, on Monday. - Martin Pope/Shutterstock
Riot police clash with protesters during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on Monday.
Riot police clash with protesters during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on Monday. - Abdullah Firas/ABACA
A demonstrator wears a sticker at a pro-Palestinian rally in central Paris on Monday.
A demonstrator wears a sticker at a pro-Palestinian rally in central Paris on Monday. - Tom Nicholson/Shutterstock

08:45 AM BST

UNRWA: one million have fled Rafah

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that around one million people have fled the Gazan city of Rafah in the past three weeks.

Israel began what it calls “targeted” ground operations on Hamas installations in east of Rafah on 6 May.

At the time some 1.5 million people had been taking refuge in the southern town.

“This happened with nowhere safe to go & amidst bombardments, lack of food & water, piles of waste & unsuitable living conditions,” the UN refugee agency said in a post on X.

08:28 AM BST

An Egyptian soldier who died near the Rafah border crossing is laid to rest

A funeral service has been held for an Egyptian soldier in the town of Faiyum on Tuesday.

The Egyptian soldier was reportedly killed and several more injured in a shoot-out with Israeli forces at the border with Gaza in an incident that both parties have tried to play down.

The shooting occurred at the Rafah crossing that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) captured earlier in May.

A funeral service is held for an Egyptian soldier in the town of Faiyum on Tuesday. The soldier was reportedly killed in an exchange of fire with IDF soldiers.
A funeral service is held for an Egyptian soldier in the town of Faiyum on Tuesday. The soldier was reportedly killed in an exchange of fire with IDF soldiers. - Sayed Hassan/Getty Images Europe

08:20 AM BST

Spanish PM calls recognition of Palestinian state ‘historic’

Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Left-wing prime minister, has spoken about the country’s decision to recognise a Palestinian state today.

“This is a historic decision that has a single goal, and that is to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” he said during a televised speech.

He described it as “a decision that we do not adopt against anyone, least of all against Israel, a friendly people whom we respect, whom we appreciate and with whom we want to have the best possible relationship.”

Sánchez also laid out his vision for a state ruled by the Palestinian National Authority that must connect the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem through a corridor.

“We will not recognize changes in the 1967 border lines other than those agreed to by the parties,” Sánchez added.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers a speech on the recognition of Palestinian statehood on Tuesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers a speech on the recognition of Palestinian statehood on Tuesday. - THOMAS COEX/AFP

08:12 AM BST

Israeli airstrike kills motorcycle driver in southern Lebanon

An Israeli strike targeting a motorcycle in southern Lebanon hit next to a hospital entrance on Monday, killing the motorcycle driver and a hospital security guard and wounding several civilians nearby, local health officials said.

It was not immediately clear who the driver was or why he was targeted in the strike in the town of Bint Jbeil.

The Israeli army did not give a statement on the strike but said it had targeted other areas of southern Lebanon in response to “terrorist launches”.

Hezbollah later launched a barrage of dozens of missiles at Meron, Safsufa and Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel. No injuries were reported in the attacks.

Israeli strikes have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon since October, most of them militants. On the Israeli side, strikes from Lebanon have killed 15 soldiers and 10 civilians.

Hezbollah has refused to entered negotiations on a cessation of fighting until the conflict in Gaza ends.

08:01 AM BST

Israel blames deadly fire on shard of shrapnel

Israeli officials told the US overnight that a shard of shrapnel or something else from an airstrike on a Hamas target hit a fuel tank 100 metres away, which ignited a massive fire in a tent that killed dozens of civilians, according to a report by broadcaster ABC.

A US official told the broadcaster that the US does not have its own information that could allow it to confirm or dispute the report.

Washington is waiting for the results of an Israeli investigation before deciding what to do next, the report states.

The aftermath of the strike on the refugee camp on Monday
The aftermath of the strike on the refugee camp on Monday - Jehad Alshrafi

07:46 AM BST

Three European countries to recognise Palestine on Tuesday

Spain, Ireland and Norway will officially recognise a Palestinian state on Tuesday, despite an angry reaction from Israel.

About 144 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations recognise a Palestinian state, including most of the global south, Russia, China and India.

Madrid, Dublin and Oslo have painted their decision as a way to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza.

Britain, Australia and EU members Malta and Slovenia have indicated that they could follow suit.

Israel has responded by pulling its ambassadors from Madrid, Oslo and Dublin and summoning the three countries’ ambassadors to watch videos of Israelis being taken hostage by Hamas gunmen.

It also blocked Spain from providing consular services to Palestinians in the West Bank and accused Spain of helping Hamas. In response, Spain has escalated criticism, describing the Gaza conflict as a “real genocide”.