AMED - Israeli tanks reached Rafah’s city center on Tuesday, Reuters reported, three weeks after the Israeli military began its ground invasion into the city. Witnesses reported that the army has taken control of Al-Awda roundabout, a well known landmark in the city’s central area. At least 16 Palestinians were killed by air strikes in Tel al-Sultan neighborhood in northwest Rafah on Tuesday as the Israeli offensive escalates.

Israel has faced international criticism for the large number of civilian casualties after nearly eight months of war in Gaza. On Sunday, a fire ignited by an Israeli strike in a tent camp for Palestinian civilians killed at least 45 people, igniting worldwide outrage.

“We pulled out children who were in pieces. We pulled out young and elderly people. The fire in the camp was unreal,” Mohammed Abuassa, who was at the scene of the strike, told the Associated Press.

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Leaders from around the world condemned the attack and called on Israel to halt its operations in Rafah.

“These operations must stop. There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire,” France’s President Emmanuel Macron posted on X.

A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said Israel has a “right to go after Hamas” but also expressed concern for the number of civilian casualties. “Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians,” the spokesperson said.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “tragic mistake” in an address to the Israeli parliament on Monday. “We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy,” Netanyahu said. The Israeli military claimed that the attack was intended to target a Hamas compound in Rafah and resulted in the deaths of two senior militants.

But rights groups say Israel routinely fails to fully investigate violence against Palestinians and that punishment is usually light in rare cases where soldiers are held accountable.

Hours before the Sunday strike, a barrage of eight long range rockets were launched from southeastern Rafah toward central Israel for the first time since January. Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron dome defense system, and caused no injuries.

Last week, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” 

The ICJ order came days after its chief prosecutor announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since the war began in October, at least 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-led Gaza Ministry of Health, figures that the U.S. and U.N. deem credible. About 1,200 Israelis were killed during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, and an additional 300 Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel’s ground invasion of the Strip began.

Around 1.5 million displaced Gazans were sheltering in Rafah prior to Israel’s ground invasion weeks ago. Most of them have been forced to flee again as they try to escape intense fighting that has taken over the South of the enclave.

Kaynak: TIME