An Israeli strike targeting a Hamas commander in the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza has left catastrophic damage and killed a large number of people, according to eyewitnesses and medics in the enclave.
“There were seven to eight huge holes in the ground, full of killed people, body parts all over the place,” he said. “It felt like the end of the world.”
According to a statement by the Israel Defense Forces, the airstrike targeted and killed Ibrahim Biari, whom it described as one of the Hamas commanders responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel, which left than 1,400 people dead and hundreds taken hostage.
The IDF also said “numerous other Hamas terrorists” were hit in the strike, and claimed the Central Jabalya Battalion had taken control of civilian buildings.
Hamas however has strongly denied the presence of one of its leaders in the refugee camp. Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the militant group, accused Israel of attempting to justify what he described as a “heinous crime against safe civilians, children, and women in Jabalya camp.”
People in the area were hysterical, he added. “I saw women screaming and confused. They didn’t know whether to cry for losing their children or run and look for them, especially since many children were playing in the neighborhood.”
Images from the scene showed a huge crater among rubble and damaged buildings. Palestinians and rescue workers are seen attempting to find victims, some using their hands to scoop the detritus away.
Southern Gaza has also seen lethal airstrikes, and aid organizations have repeatedly warned that there is no safe place in the isolated enclave. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 8,485 people and injured more than 21,000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which draws on information from the Hamas-controlled enclave.
‘A scene no one can imagine’
At the Indonesian hospital, the nearest major medical facility to Jabalya, videos showed a long line of bodies lying on the floor of the hospital as well as large numbers of wounded people, including children, as doctors rushed to treat their injuries.
Many of the injured could be seen receiving treatment on the floor because of the hospital’s overcrowded conditions. Hospital head Dr. Atef al-Kalhout estimated that scores had been killed in the blast.
“What you see is a scene no one can imagine: injured martyrs, charred bodies in the hundreds,” said another doctor, Mohammad al Rann. “All we can do is keep taking them in. Most of the injuries are from explosives and head injuries and amputations.”
Mohammed Hawajreh, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, said that some of the wounded also arrived at that hospital. “Young children arrived at the hospital with deep wounds and severe burns. They came without their families. Many were screaming and asking for their parents. I stayed with them until we could find a place, as the hospital was full with patients,” Hawajreh said in a statement.
According to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior in Gaza, twenty homes were “completely destroyed” in the bombing.
The world reacts
Jabalya, like other refugee camps in the Strip, is crowded with homes, shops, and apartment buildings, where many roads between them are barely wide enough for a car to pass.
Many Palestinian refugees settled in the camp in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, after fleeing villages in what became the state of Israel, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The camp is the largest refugee camp in Gaza, says UNRWA, is spread out across 1.4 square kilometers, and has long grappled with overcrowding. It is also among the poorest areas in the enclave and home to busy open-air markets.
Shortly after the blast, Israeli human rights organization B’tselem condemned Israel’s weeks-long aerial bombardment of Gaza, saying “the scale of killing Israel has and continues to wreak on Gaza is horrifying,” in a statement released Tuesday.
“More than 8,000 people have been killed so far, more than half of them women and children. Entire buildings have collapsed with occupants still inside. Whole families have been wiped out in an instant. This criminal harm to civilians is intolerable and the obvious needs to be stated again and again – not everything is allowed in war, including war on Hamas,” it said.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the strike as a “massacre,” referencing “chilling documented scenes” of children and women. “It has its bones, in a large-scale massacre carried out in full view of the world and under the pretext of self-defense,” the statement added.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and Egypt have also condemned the strike, with Egypt accusing Israel of breaking international law with what it said was the “inhuman” targeting of a residential area. “Egypt considered this as a new flagrant violation by the Israeli forces against the provisions of international law and international humanitarian law,” the ministry said.
When pressed multiple times throughout a White House briefing on the Jabalya strike and on whether Israel is doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US has “indications they are trying.”
“We’re not going to react to every event in real time, but we’ve certainly recognized that civilians have been hurt,” he said. “Civilians have been killed to the tune of many thousands … We recognize that, we observe that, and we’re not accepting of any single civilian death in Gaza.”
He added that “it is not the goal of Israeli forces to go out and deliberately take innocent civilian life and they have tried to make efforts to minimize that.”
“Those who are responsible for giving the orders for that crime should hear something from Mr. (Karim A. A.) Khan from the ICC (International Criminal Court),” he said in reference to the ICC prosecutor. “And if he has the courage, and I hope he does, we appreciate the fact that he came to Rafah crossing, and he made a statement there. But it would be also nice to issue a warrant of arrest for those who are responsible for such crimes.”
Wounded Palestinians heading to Egypt
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, said the patients were “seriously injured” and the Rafah border crossing is set to open Wednesday morning to allow them to pass.
Major UN agencies are calling for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow deliveries of aid for more than 2 million civilians trapped with scarce supplies of food, water, and medical equipment, and for the safe release of 240 hostages that Israel believes are being held by Hamas, the militant group that controls the enclave.
A Hamas military wing spokesman claimed Tuesday that in the coming days the group will free some foreign nationals they are holding hostage.
“Some countries have intervened through mediators to free some foreign nationals’ detainees in Gaza,” Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, said in a video clip without naming the countries. “Therefore, we informed the mediators that we will release a number of foreigners in the coming days.”
He did not elaborate further on the nationalities or number of hostages they planned on freeing.
This story is developing and is being updated.