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By striking Rafah, Israel makes a new affront to international law

Photo: Eyad Baba Agence France-Presse Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a displaced persons camp in Rafah on Monday.

Sarah R. Champagne

Posted at 3:32 p.m. Updated at 5:31 p.m.

  • Middle East

Israeli nighttime bombings killed at least 45 displaced Palestinians occupying tents in a Rafah camp, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. The attack, which would have lasted several hours overnight from Sunday to Monday, is a new denial of international law on the part of Israel, say two experts, in a place that the army itself had designated as a “safe zone “.

A change of tone has been felt in the international community, these two specialists also note, inviting Canada to follow suit. Neither Justin Trudeau nor François Legault had reacted publicly at the time these lines were written.

In the House and on the social network Mélanie Joly demanded an immediate ceasefire: “Even in times of war, there are rules,” she declared Monday afternoon. “Palestinian civilians have nowhere to go. “The killing of innocent civilians is completely unacceptable,” she continued, adding that Canada's position on Rafah is “clear.”

The Prime Minister Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was a “tragic accident.”

The head of European Union diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said he was “horrified” by the dozens of displaced people killed, “including small children”. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his outrage and called for an “immediate ceasefire.”

It must be said that these attacks come two days later that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to stop its operation in Rafah. On day 231 of the war in Gaza, Friday, the highest court of the UN had indeed published a legally binding decision with the order to “immediately” stop its military maneuvers.

On day 233, Sunday, the Israeli army indicated that it had “struck a Hamas compound in Rafah where major Hamas terrorists were operating a short time ago.” Two leaders of the movement in the West Bank were killed, said the Israeli authorities in a press release, namely Yacine Rabia and Khaled Nagar.

The government wrote for its part that Israel sought to “limit civilian casualties.” His army said Monday it was investigating the deaths of civilian victims. The day before, she had denied having struck in a humanitarian zone, describing these assertions as “lies and disinformation from Hamas” on her official account in French on the X network.

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The Israeli army also claimed that the munitions used were “precise”, for a strike “carried out against legitimate targets in accordance with international law”. She further indicated “that she is aware of information according to which several civilians in the area have been injured.”

Images from all major Western media, from New York Timesto CNN, via the BBC, show large-scale destruction of the Barkasat displaced persons camp, run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). The presence of charred bodies, including those of children, is reported.

Another red line crossed

“We have seen over the last 24 hours an intensification and systematic bombings, including with 200-pound bombs which destroy large infrastructures”, analyzes François Audet, director of the Institute of international studies of Montreal from UQAM. These attacks were “not at all targeted,” he adds: “Israel ignores the demands of the ICJ and continues to use weaponry [which does not distinguish] between combatants and non-combatants. »

In all recent history, “this is certainly the first time that a state of law that calls itself democratic has carried out deliberate attacks on refugee populations,” he says. There may have been incidents described as “blunders” or “mistakes” at refugee camps in the recent past, “but for it to be done so massively and so systematically is a first,” he says.

A “sad precedent” which also takes place in one of the most publicized places in the world today, under the gaze of television cameras and telephones. “Israel cannot say that we do not know and that we do not see,” remarks Mr. Audet.

“We are deliberately killing civilians in the hypothesis that we are perhaps going to kill a Hamas leader who is in hiding,” he summarizes. And even if it is a “strategy”, it is not a “legal reason” to justify what is happening.

“It would be very very very difficult to justify in terms of international humanitarian law,” adds Fannie Lafontaine, professor of law at Laval University. There are two fundamental rules in international law, she explains.

On the one hand, there is a complete ban on directly attacking civilians.< /p>

And on the other hand, the only legitimate targets are military objectives, for example a weapons cache. But in this case, if there is civilian harm from an attack, it must not be disproportionate to the military advantage. Civil damage must therefore be limited as much as possible. “What we see is that a camp of displaced people has been hit directly. It would take a lot of military justifications, big military targets to justify so many deaths,” analyzes Ms. Lafontaine.

Nowhere to protect yourself

According to international law, during attacks that may have consequences on civilians, they must be given time to move, notes the woman who also holds the Canada Research Chair in International Criminal Justice and Fundamental Rights. . “But there are no more places to go,” she notes.

“If you are in Gaza, you cannot leave the territory . You are walled in”, also recalls François Audet.

Since the start of the Israeli counterattack on October 7, this town in the southern Gaza Strip, on the Egyptian border, was a place where the civilian population had headed. And even though there have been bombings in Rafah in recent weeks, Israeli authorities have themselves designated the northwest of the city as a “safe zone”; the army had also called on civilians to take refuge there two weeks ago.

“They dropped leaflets asking us to go to the area humanitarian of Tal al-Sultan, so we complied and came here,” Abou Mohammad told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “And yet, [Sunday] when I was having dinner, at sunset, I suddenly felt like an earthquake,” he added.

< p>These places designated by Israel have proven to be places of devastation and “systematic bombings” since the start of the counterattack, notes Mr. Audet: “Is it voluntary to put the population in a trap ? […] It was the last space of any protection whatsoever. »

“People were neither injured nor killed: they were burned,” lamented Mohammad Hamad, 24, also to AFP.

« This attack will mark the spirits” because of the context in which it occurs, according to Fannie Lafontaine. It could be linked to significant legal consequences. The ICJ is currently examining charges of genocide against Israel and “all attacks on civilians and statements” are elements that could be added.

The strike of Sunday could therefore “constitute an additional fact towards a genocidal intention” or, at least, will be analyzed by the ICJ. “The elements must make it possible to know whether one of Israel's goals was not only to destroy Hamas and obtain the release of the hostages, but to destroy Palestinian civilians,” specifies Ms. Lafontaine.

The war was sparked by the attack on Israeli soil by Hamas commandos on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians. More than 120 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

More than seven months later, Israel's retaliation has killed at least 36,050 people, according to the Ministry of Security Health in Gaza, controlled by Hamas, and 81,026 people were injured.

With Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116