Israel-Palestine: News

Israel’s Attack at Tal Al-Sultan in Rafah

27 May 2024

updated 28 May 2024

On Sunday 26 May, reports emerged that an Israeli airstrike hit the Tal al-Sultan area in Rafah, southern Gaza, where displaced persons had been sheltering, reportedly killing at least 45, many of them women and children. Footage from the aftermath of the attack depicts tents and makeshift structures in flames and dark smoke billowing into the night sky, as well as injured persons with severe burns being carried away. Gazan officials said that Tal al-Sultan had been declared a ‘humanitarian area’.

Earlier today, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported ‘[a]n influx of patients with injuries and burns … desperately needing treatment’. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on X: ‘Gaza is hell on earth. Images from last night are yet another testament to that’.  

French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was ‘[o]utraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah’; the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack ‘in the strongest terms’.  

Yesterday’s events are unfolding against the backdrop of grave concerns over Israel’s military offensive in Rafah, which commenced on 7 May. More than 1 million displaced persons had previously sought refuge in Rafah, the southernmost area of Gaza bordering Egypt, having moved from place to place in search of safety amidst months of attacks throughout Gaza and Israeli instructions to relocate. Around 800,000 of them have reportedly been displaced again due to intensifying Israeli attacks in and around Rafah. Hospitals throughout the Strip, including in Rafah, are on the verge of collapse, and humanitarian catastrophe is in full swing.  

Concerns that the dire situation in Gaza has been precipitated and aggravated by violations of international law have led to a number of interventions before international courts. On Friday (24 May), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN), issued its third order on provisional measures in the South Africa v. Israel case concerning alleged violations of the Genocide Convention, instituted in December 2023. The order related explicitly to Rafah, instructing Israel to ‘[i]mmediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. Israel was also ordered to ‘[m]aintain open the Rafah crossing for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance’.  

In a separate development, last Monday (20 May), the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, announced that he had applied for the issuance of arrest warrants for five Israeli and Hamas officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed since the start of the hostilities in October 2023.  

The IHL Centre fully supports all efforts to ensure accountability for serious violations of international law. We call upon Israel to fully comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) – including the rules on conduct of hostilities and the law of occupation – as well as with the ICJ’s orders on provisional measures, and all other applicable provisions of international law. The IHL Centre will provide more analysis on the legality of Israel’s military offensive in Rafah and the attack on the Tal al-Sultan area in the coming days.