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American bomb fragments found at the site of the Israeli attack on Rafah camp

Israel’s military likely used a US-made precision bomb in an attack that killed at least 45 people in southern Gaza on Sunday, according to four weapons experts who reviewed visual evidence provided to The Washington Post.

The fragments of an SDB GBU-39, a 250-pound small-bore precision munition, were found near the site of the attack on a Rafah compound, where witnesses described the sounds of aircraft overhead and the successive explosions that ” shook the whole city. ”

Israel said the strike was a “targeted” attack on two Hamas militants, carried out using “the smallest munitions” that Israeli fighter jets can use. It said the fire that broke out at the camp was “unexpected and unintentional,” and that it was investigating the possibility that secondary explosions had ignited the blaze.

The findings do not contradict Israel’s claim that it used small munitions, weapons experts said. Israel said it used munitions containing “17 kilos of explosive material,” a weight equivalent to the size of a warhead used with a GBU-39, according to Trevor Ball, a former explosive ordnance disposal technician for the U.S. military .

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the United States could not confirm which weapons were used or how they were used in the attack. Speaking to reporters, Blinken called the attack “horrific” and said anyone who saw footage of it was affected on a “basic human level.”

The United States has been “very clear with Israel,” Blinken said, about the need to “immediately investigate and interrogate exactly what happened.” Asked whether the attack would affect US military aid to Israel, he said Washington would “await the results” of Israel’s investigation.

“Ammunition such as the GBU-39 is often specifically selected to minimize the risk of damage to civilians or civilian objects,” said NR Jenzen-Jones, director of Armament Research Services. In any case, he said, “any targeted attack – and especially any attack carried out in close proximity to civilians – requires a robust collateral damage assessment process.”

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More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which makes no distinction between civilians and fighters but says the majority of victims are women and children. Israel launched its campaign after Hamas militants stormed Israeli communities near the border in October, killing about 1,200 people.

Images of the clips, taken by Palestinian journalist Alam Sadeq on Monday, showed the cage code, or a series of five characters used to identify vendors who sell weapons to the US government. The designation “81873” links the fragment to Woodward HRT, a gun parts manufacturer registered in Valencia, California.

Sadeq’s video and images were verified and geolocated by The Post. He traveled to Rafah from nearby Khan Younis early on Monday to document the aftermath of the strike. As he walked through the wreckage, he saw a boy sitting on the ground examining the remains of an electronic board.

“He told me this piece was in his tent,” Sadeq said. “I knew this missile was used for bombing.”

The United States has provided Israel with 1,000 precision-guided bombs by 2023, according to an arms transfer database maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The Biden administration did not halt transfers of these munitions during the course of the war. Last month, the State Department approved a transfer of more than 1,000 GBU-39/B small diameter container bombs on the same day Israeli forces bombed a convoy of World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza, killing seven people came to life.

The attack took place late on Sunday near a logistics base of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, destroying at least four tin structures used as shelters for the displaced, according to satellite images from Monday provided by Planet Labs. Images before and after the strike also showed more than a dozen tent-like structures between the tin buildings and the UN warehouse, about 150 meters away.


Tal al-Sultan tent camp afterwards

and before the IDF attack

Makeshift accommodation

(visible in satellite from early January)

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Tal al-Sultan tent camp afterwards

and before the IDF attack

Makeshift accommodation

(visible in satellite from early January)

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Makeshift accommodation

(visible in satellite from early January)

Before and after the IDF attack

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Makeshift accommodation

(visible in satellite from early January)

Before and after the IDF attack

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Over the past eight months, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah as the Israeli offensive ravaged the northern part of the Gaza Strip. The city grew with displaced people, who set up tent camps on the streets, on empty lots and on sand dunes near the sea.

It is unclear how many people were still in the camp on Sunday when the strike struck. After Israel seized the Rafah crossing earlier this month, nearly 1 million people fled the city, fearing a bigger incursion.

Wes J. Bryant, a former U.S. military targeting professional, said, “Small diameter bombs are great for limiting collateral damage if you don’t actually drop them near tents with families.”

The Israeli military has emphasized that the attack took place outside a designated “humanitarian zone,” but the Israeli military had not issued an evacuation order for this specific block of the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood before the attack.

“There was a civilian encampment and the civilians inside must remain protected,” Bryant said, adding that the U.S. military would have needed approval from higher command before attacking the camp.

“Our analysis of collateral damage would likely have placed civilians within the attack radius anyway, so we most likely would not have struck at that location,” he said.

Ammunition fragments were found on Monday at the site of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. (Video: Alam Aldeen Mahmood Sadeq)

An Israeli military spokesman said Wednesday he could not comment further on the ammunition used or what measures were taken to prevent civilian casualties.

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that the United States “did not have more detail” about the cause of the explosion and subsequent fire.

Speaking to reporters during a virtual briefing, Kirby said that if it were true that Israel was using precision-guided weapons, “that would certainly indicate a desire to be more deliberate and precise in their targeting.”

Sadeq said he encountered gruesome scenes in the aftermath of the strike, including charred corpses, blood-splattered bread and a man looking for his cousin’s head. In one hand he held a girl’s brain and in the other a bag full of body parts.

The smell of death was “everywhere,” he said.

Brown and Kelly reported from Washington, Fahim from Istanbul and Hudson from Chisinau, Moldova. Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.

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