Amid increasing international criticism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel stated on Monday that the fatal incident which claimed the lives of numerous individuals at a displaced Palestinians’ camp in Rafah was deemed “an unfortunate mishap,” with no indication of halting the Israeli offensive in the southern Gaza city.

The fatal blaze that engulfed the encampment on Sunday following an airstrike occurred at a sensitive juncture for Israel, coming shortly after the International Court of Justice seemingly instructed the nation’s military to cease its operation in Rafah, while diplomats were endeavoring to recommence negotiations for a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas.

According to the Israeli military, the target of Sunday’s strike in Rafah was a Hamas facility, and they claimed to have employed “highly accurate munitions” to target a commander and another senior militant figure present there.

However, at least 45 people, including children, lost their lives due to the explosion and ensuing fires, as reported by the Gaza health ministry. The ministry also reported 249 individuals sustaining injuries.

During his address to the Israeli Parliament on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu claimed that the military had made efforts to safeguard noncombatants by issuing evacuation notices, emphasizing that around one million civilians had evacuated Rafah in advance or during the offensive. He expressed, “Despite our utmost endeavors to avoid harming innocent civilians,” he added, “an unfortunate mishap occurred regrettably last night.”

He accused Hamas of concealing themselves among the civilian populace, stating, “Every innocent civilian harmed is a tragedy for us. For Hamas, it serves as a strategic objective. That’s the fundamental disparity.”

As gruesome images of the deceased and wounded circulated globally, immediate condemnation ensued. The recent censure is likely to make it more challenging for Israel to continue their operation against Hamas in Rafah, the city where approximately one million displaced Gazans have sought refuge.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, a key Israeli ally, expressed his “outrage” over the Rafah airstrike on Monday and insisted that such operations “must cease.” He called for “strict compliance with international law and an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

The Israeli government, which launched an incursion into the Gaza Strip in response to a Hamas-led assault that claimed approximately 1,200 lives in Israel, argues that entering Rafah is imperative to neutralize the militants. Israelis contend that Rafah is a stronghold from where Hamas militants launched rockets into central Israel on Sunday for the first time in months.

Despite Rafah harboring displaced Gazans forced into the city due to prior conflicts in the north, world leaders caution against a major military operation in the area.

The casualties on Sunday appeared to embody the concerns voiced by those advocating for cautious Israeli actions.

Bilal al-Sapti, a 30-year-old construction worker in Rafah, recounted witnessing charred bodies amidst the camp’s ruins, accompanied by the anguished cries of people as firefighters attempted to douse the flames. He described, “The fire was intense and had enveloped the entire camp.”

Dr. Marwan al-Hams, stationed at the Tal Al Sultan Health Center where many casualties were initially brought, emphasized that a majority of the deceased and injured were women and children. He noted, “Numerous bodies had severe burns, amputated limbs, and were dismembered.”

In a statement, Hamas condemned the Israeli assault on Rafah as “a monstrous war crime” and demanded the immediate enforcement of the World Court’s ruling. However, the group made no reference to the Israeli military’s assertions regarding the elimination of two Hamas officials in the strike.

The Israeli military affirmed taking several precautions before the strike to minimize harm to civilians, including aerial reconnaissance and the use of precision munitions. They stated, “Based on these measures, it was anticipated that no innocent civilians would be harmed.”

Although an Israeli official, speaking confidentially about the matter, revealed on Monday that a preliminary military investigation indicated that the strike or its shrapnel possibly ignited a flammable substance at the camp, causing unforeseen fires. Witnesses reported witnessing raging fires after the strike.

Drone footage of the attack reviewed by The New York Times depicted the munition striking an area containing several large cabin-like structures and parked vehicles.

Two Israeli officials disclosed that the strike occurred outside of a specified humanitarian zone designated to provide secure refuge to evacuees. The officials shared a map illustrating the strike’s location relative to the designated zone.

The military identified the two primary targets of the strike as Yassin Rabi, the commander of Hamas’s leadership in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Khaled Nagar, a senior official within the same faction of the group.

In a somewhat cryptic directive, the International Court of Justice, a United Nations entity currently deliberating on accusations of Israeli genocide in Gaza, called on Israel to cease any actions in Rafah that could lead to conditions endangering the survival of the Palestinian group in Gaza, wholly or partially.

While Israeli officials argue that the 13-2 ruling permits them to proceed with their operations in Rafah without inducing genocidal conditions, some allies perceive the judgment differently. Prior to the recent civilian casualties, Germany’s deputy chancellor, Robert Habeck, denounced the Rafah offensive as “contrary to international law.”

Over the weekend, Israel’s war cabinet convened to deliberate on ongoing efforts to secure a truce leading to the release of hostages abducted during the October 7 assaults, as per an Israeli official speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the discussions.

Diplomats are aiming to reinitiate negotiations in the coming week, according to information from three officials familiar with the process. Initial talks reportedly took place in Paris over the weekend.

Contributions to this report were made by Hiba Yazbek, Abu Bakr Bashir, Iyad Abuheweila, Patrick Kingsley, Myra Noveck, and Johnatan Reiss.