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Israeli strikes hit tents for displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah


The Gaza Health Ministry says 45 people are dead after an Israeli airstrike hit Rafah. The attack started a fire at an encampment there, injuring hundreds in what was supposed to be a safe zone for people displaced by the war. World leaders condemned the strike.


This strike comes just days after the U.N.'s International Court of Justice ordered an immediate halt to the Israeli operation in Rafah.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi joins us now from Tel Aviv. So what happened in Rafah last night?

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Yeah. Late last night, the Israeli military says it was targeting a Hamas installation and that it killed two senior Hamas militants. This strike caused a fire in a tent encampment where dozens of displaced Palestinians were sheltering.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, that tent encampment was an area considered to be safe for refugees. What's been the reaction there?

AL-SHALCHI: That's right. The strike hit the western neighborhood of Tel al-Sultan in Rafah, which the Israeli government had designated as a safe and humanitarian zone. The Israeli military, in fact, dropped leaflets last week telling people that humanitarian aid would be available there. NPR's producer in Rafah, Anas Baba, was at the scene of the strike, and he spoke to people there.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: What we can see here is a total destruction. And when we talked here to multiple persons, they told us that we cannot even realize if this is a reality of a dream or even a nightmare. We're expecting that we are living inside of the safe area that - the one that the Israelis announced before.

AL-SHALCHI: Before this month, Rafah had been the last refuge for Palestinians during this war, with so much of Gaza being devastated. In fact, almost 1.3 million Palestinians were sheltering in Rafah. But now the United Nations says over 800,000 have fled since the Israeli military expanded its ground operations there. But it's still densely populated in the areas that are not under evacuation order.

MARTÍNEZ: What do we know about the people who were killed?

AL-SHALCHI: Yeah. The Gaza Health Ministry says many people are still under the rubble and that the majority killed were women and children. And officials say that the number of killed will probably rise. NPR talked to Dr. James Smith. He's an emergency doctor working just outside of Rafah. He said that many of the injured were taken to a trauma stabilization center in Tel al-Sultan and then referred to surrounding field hospitals for further treatment.

JAMES SMITH: People, we're hearing, literally burnt alive in their tents. The trauma stabilization team that we work alongside have received people with varying degrees of injury.

AL-SHALCHI: He said that the airstrike is the worst he's seen in the weeks he's been working in Gaza.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, the timing of this strike comes just after the International Court of Justice ordered the Israeli military to halt its campaign in Rafah and also after Israelis are protesting for their government to negotiate a cease-fire to bring hostages home. Given all that and everything else, what's the state of negotiations to end the war?

AL-SHALCHI: I mean, for weeks, there have been talks about the talks. Israeli media is reporting that officials say that negotiations are supposed to resume next week. There were some high-level discussions in Paris this weekend. The Mossad, the CIA and the Qatari prime minister were all there. The talks have been breaking down over and over again in the past months, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is under great domestic pressure to come to a deal to release the remaining hostages in Gaza. But he's also being pressured by hardliners in his government who don't want a complete cease-fire.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Tel Aviv. Thank you very much.

AL-SHALCHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.