Israeli strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children

Israeli airstrikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight killed 22 people, including 18 children, health officials said Sunday, as the U.S. was poised to approve billions of dollars in additional military aid to Israel, its close ally.

Israel has conducted near-daily air raids on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has sought refuge from fighting elsewhere. The country has also pledged to expand its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group to the city on the Egyptian border, despite U.S. calls for restraint.

“In the coming days, we will increase political and military pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to retrieve our hostages and secure victory. We will deliver more and significant blows to Hamas — soon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, without providing further details.

The first Israeli strike in Rafah killed a man, his pregnant wife, and their 3-year-old child, according to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital, which received the bodies. Doctors at the hospital were able to save the baby. The second strike killed 17 children and two women from an extended family.

“These children were sleeping. What did they do? What was their fault?” asked Umm Kareem, a relative. Mohammed al-Beheiri said his daughter Rasha and her six children, the youngest being 18 months, were among those killed. A woman and three children were still under the rubble as of the latest reports.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, local health officials report, with at least two-thirds being children and women. It has ravaged Gaza’s two largest cities and left extensive destruction in its wake. Approximately 80% of the territory’s residents have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

The $26 billion aid package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday includes about $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts claim is on the verge of famine. The U.S. Senate is expected to pass the package as early as Tuesday, with President Joe Biden promising immediate signature.