Israel investigating cause of blaze that followed Rafah air strike

Fire rages following an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced Palestinians, in Rafah

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military is investigating the possibility that munitions stored near a compound in Gaza hit by an air strike on Sunday may have caught fire, killing more than 40 civilians, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said it was still unclear what set off the deadly blaze in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but added that the 17 kilogram munitions used in the strike were believed to be too small to have set off such a big fire.

"We are looking into all possibilities including the option that weapons stored in a compound next to our target which we did not know of may have ignited as a result of the strike," he told a televised briefing, adding that footage of the incident indicated there were secondary explosions following the strike.

The incident, coming just days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its operation in Rafah, triggered international outrage, deepening the global isolation facing Israel over the war in Gaza.

Hagari said the operation on Sunday targeted two senior Hamas operatives in a compound in which no civilians were present but "due to unforeseen circumstances, a fire ignited tragically taking the lives of Gazans nearby."

He said a number of steps had been taken before the operation to avoid civilian casualties.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Emily Rose; Editing by Peter Graff)