Palestinians observe the destruction caused by the Israeli military's bombing

Palestinians observe the destruction caused by the Israeli military's bombing of a tent encampment in Rafah, Gaza on May 27, 2024.

(Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

UN Experts Demand Accountability for 'Barbaric' Israeli Tent Massacre in Rafah

"There is no mistake, just total disregard for humanity, decency, international law," said human rights experts at the United Nations of Israel's bombing of an encampment.

A coalition of United Nations experts on Wednesday vehemently rejected Israel's claim that its bombing of a tent encampment in a supposed "humanitarian area" in Rafah was a "tragic mistake," demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government be stopped from continuing its assault on Gaza and that those responsible for the bombing be held to account.

"These barbaric attacks are a flagrant violation of international law. They are also an attack on human decency and our collective humanity," said the experts, including Francesca Albanese, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and Paula Gaviria Betancur, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

The experts said the death toll in Israel's Sunday attack on a tent encampment in the Rafah neighborhood of Tal al-Sultan had reached 46, with 23 women, children, and elderly people among the dead. The makeshift plastic tents were located near a facility operated by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and like many places in Gaza that have been bombarded by Israel since October, had been identified as a safe zone for civilians as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched ground attacks on Rafah,

As images of the charred bodies of victims sent shockwaves through the international community this week, Israeli forces killed 21 more Palestinians on Tuesday at an encampment in al-Mawasi—another area displaced people were ordered by Israel to go earlier this month as the military entered Rafah.

"Even if Israeli leaders claim now that the strikes were a 'mistake', they bear international legal responsibility," said the U.N. rapporteurs. "Calling it a mistake will not make the strikes legal, bring back those killed in Rafah, or give comfort to grieving survivors."

Albanese, who released a draft report in March saying Israel's relentless assault on Gaza since October met the definition of a genocide, emphasized the need for "sanctions and an immediate arms embargo on Israel."

Accountability must be demanded from Israel, said the experts, particularly considering this week's attacks on civilians took place just days after the International Court of Justice ordered the Israeli government to stop its military offensive in Rafah, where more than 1 million people had been forcibly displaced since Israel began attacking cities across Gaza in October. Many of them have recently fled the city, according to the United Nations.

The ICJ said last Friday that Israel had not convinced its panel of judges that it had taken the necessary steps to protect civilians as the IDF continued what it claims is an operation aimed at defeating Hamas and not at killing civilians—despite numerous statements from Israeli officials about their plan to "annihilate" Gaza cities and to allow the military to attack without any "restraints."

"ICJ orders like the one issued on May 24, 2024 to Israel are binding. And Israel—which has enjoyed impunity for its crimes against the Palestinian people for decades, and for its brutal assault on the people of Gaza over the past eight months—must comply," the experts said.

They also directed their remarks at the U.S. and other Western countries that have continued to provide political and military support to Israel even as the death toll in Gaza has surged past 36,000, with the IDF firing on people waiting for aid deliveries and bombing refugee camps, and authorities discovering mass graves with Palestinians—including women and children—appearing to have been buried alive, some with their hands bound behind their backs.

"The flow of arms into Israel must stop immediately," they said. "It is abundantly clear that these weapons are being used to brutally kill and maim Palestinian civilians."

On Wednesday, The New York Times and CNNreported that U.S. bombs had been used in the attack on Tal al-Sultan. The White House refused to confirm the outlets' analysis.

The U.N. experts demanded an independent international investigation into the latest Rafah bombings and an end to Israel's bombardment of Gaza.

"A staggering 5% of Gaza's population has been killed or injured, more than 70% of homes destroyed, and more than 75% displaced," they said. "The agony of Gaza's people must end."

"An immediate and permanent cease-fire," the experts added, "coupled with meaningful measures to document and ensure accountability for atrocities, and secure the fundamental rights of Palestinians in Gaza, are the only path forward to salvage our shared humanity."

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