US expressed deep concern to Israel over Rafah airstrike, State Department says

Palestinians travel on foot along with their belongings as they flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operation

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed deep concern to Israel's government over an airstrike in Rafah and urged an investigation as soon as it saw reports of the incident, the State Department said on Tuesday, adding that Washington will closely watch the results of Israel's probe.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that the military operations that Israel has so far conducted in Rafah have not been as large-scale as the ones it has carried out in central or northern Gaza. The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against launching a large-scale military offensive in Rafah.

The U.S. will continue to emphasize to Israel its obligation to comply fully with international humanitarian law, minimize the impact of its operations on civilians and maximize the flow of humanitarian assistance, Miller said.

Israel's three-week-old Rafah offensive stirred renewed outrage after an airstrike on Sunday ignited a blaze in a tent camp in a western district, killing at least 45 people.

Israel said it had targeted two senior Hamas operatives in a compound and had not intended to cause civilian casualties.

Global leaders voiced horror at the fire in a designated "humanitarian zone" of Rafah where families uprooted by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter.

Miller said Israel should not carry out strikes in the designated safer areas to which they have told people to move, adding that Israel has said that is not what happened.

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Rafah over the weekend," Miller told reporters.

"Israel has a right to go after the Hamas terrorists responsible for the cold-blooded murder of civilians, as appears to have been Israel's game here, and Hamas should stop hiding behind civilians in Gaza. But Israel also has the obligation to do everything possible to minimize civilian harm as it carries out its operations."

Miller also said the humanitarian situation throughout Gaza continues to be incredibly challenging.

Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border earlier this month and seized control of the crossing from the Palestinian side.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive, Gaza's health ministry says. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, David Ljunggren and Daphne Psaledakis, Editing by Franklin Paul and Rod Nickel)