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War on Gaza: Israel used 'US-made weapons' in Rafah massacre

A CNN report said American GBU-39 bombs were used in deadly attack on designated safe zone for Palestinians
A displaced Palestinian looks at the damage from an Israeli strike on Rafah, on 28 May (Reuters)

A CNN analysis of a deadly Israeli air strike on a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah has found that US-made munitions were used in the attack.

Sunday's attack on an overcrowded group of tents in the southern Gaza Strip city killed at least 45 people and injured hundreds.

Footage of the aftermath, including images of a headless child, caused shockwaves across the world, sparking condemnation even by European states allied to Israel.

Video shows chaotic scenes, with panicked survivors running for safety amid the charred bodies, as rescuers and medics try to pull them from the wreckage. It also contains clues as to the weaponry used in the attack, which was analysed by CNN teams.

The US news network first matched details shown in the footage, such as the location signs strewn in the wreckage of the attack, to  known details about where it took place, namely the Kuwait Peace Camp.

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After geolocating the footage, explosive weapons experts confirmed that remnants of the American-manufactured GBU-39 diameter bomb (SDB) were present.

The GBU-39 is a high-precision bomb “designed to attack strategically important point targets”, explosive weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith told CNN.

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“Using any munition, even of this size, will always incur risks in a densely populated area,” Cobb-Smith, a former British army artillery officer, added. 

Another weapons expert, Trevor Ball, explained that the piece of ammunition used to attack the camp is a part of the US-made GBU-39.

“The warhead portion [of the munition] is distinct, and the guidance and wing section is extremely unique compared to other munitions," Ball said.

"Guidance and wing sections of munitions are often the remnants left over even after a munition detonates. I saw the tail actuation section and instantly knew it was one of the SDB/GBU-39 variants,” said Ball, a former US army ordnance disposal team member.

He also explained that in Israel’s attack on the Rafah camp a variant that causes less collateral damage was used, rather than the Focused Lethality Munition (FLM), which results in larger explosions.

Serial numbers recovered at the scene were also matched to the bomb manufacturers in California, CNN said.

US denial

The US denies knowing the manufacturer of the munitions used against the displaced Palestinians in Rafah.

“I do not know what type of munition was used in that air strike. I’d have to refer you to the Israelis to speak to that,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters when she was asked to comment on whether the bombs used in the massacre were US-made or not.

Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari said two munitions with small warheads carrying 17 kilos of explosives were used in the deadly strike.

His comments match the specifications of the GBU-39, which could be loaded with 17kg of explosive material.

In a press conference, Hagari described the weapons as the “smallest munitions that our [Israeli] jets could use”.

He added that a fire had contributed to the incident.

The US has shown unconditional support for Israel since it began its military assault on Gaza, providing it with arms despite the large-scale devastation caused by Israeli forces.

On 15 May, US President Joe Biden told key lawmakers that the US would send over $1bn in additional arms and ammunition to Israel, as reported by the AP.

'I do not know what type of munition was used in that air strike'

- Sabrina Singh, Pentagon deputy press secretary

The major transfer of military aid, initially reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes a week after the White House paused a single transfer of 1,800 2,000-pound (907kg) bombs and 1,700 500-pound (227kg) bombs to Israel, citing concerns over the lives of civilians in Gaza.

It is not known whether this was part of a previous existing arms sale or something new.

Despite reported tensions between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official told the Washington Post that “arms transfers are proceeding as scheduled”.

Earlier, Biden had said that the US would stop sending offensive arms to Israel should it carry out a large-scale invasion of Rafah.

But on Tuesday, the Biden administration denied that Israel violated its red line against launching a full-scale assault on Rafah, even as Israeli tanks were reported rolling into the centre of the besieged southern Gaza border town.

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