World Crisis Web
Israeli occupation forces have spent the last six days destroying a heavily populated part of the southern Gaza town of Rafah, leaving many Palestinians dead and injured and fifteen hundred homeless, with the number of houses destroyed in the last two days equivalent to a fifth of the total since the beginning of the second Intifada.
Sources at the Abu Yousuf al Najjar hospital in Rafah reported nine people killed, including 8-year old Ibrahim Ahmed Qrainawi and a 15-year old Sami Talal Salah, and as many as seventy injured, most of them innocent civilians. “I am talking about a real massacre,” said doctor Muhammed Hasanin, “this is usually what happens when a mad army rampages through population centres.”
Eyewitnesses said Israeli helicopter gun ships fired on residential neighbourhoods. The aerial strafing targeted the two refugee camps. “I saw two apaches firing on the two camps. It was indiscriminate and deadly,” said Muhammed Aziz, who lives in the affected Yibna camp.
Earlier, Israeli tanks and bulldozers destroyed as many as sixty residential homes in the camp, rendering many hundreds homeless. In addition, Israeli tanks sabotaged telephone and electricity lines as well as the local water supply system, leaving Rafah and surrounding communities without water.
“I can testify that Rafah is a disaster area. The Israeli army has perpetrated a colossal crime against innocent civilians. I appeal to the whole world to intervene to stop Israel’s genocidal war against a helpless civilian population,” said Rafah Governor Sufyan al Agha.
Peter Hansen, the head of the UN’s refugee agency in Gaza said that the affected area looked as if it had been hit by an earthquake, after visiting the camp on Sunday. “There is a lot of fear, there is a lot of anger and there are a lot of people who are very desperate.”
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, again accused Israel of breaching international law through “disproportionate use of force” in a civilian area. In several places, entire rows of houses were crushed under armoured bulldozers.
Israel said its operation was aimed at discovering and destroying tunnels used by Palestinian guerrillas to smuggle weapons across the Egyptian borders. However, most consider this as only a pretext to further weaken the Palestinian resistance.
“Look, this is only a pretext. If they really came to destroy tunnels, why did kill and maim a hundred innocent civilians?” asks al Agha, “Why did they destroy all these homes? Why did they destroy our infrastructure? Why did they destroy power lines, telephone lines, and water pipes? The truth of the matter is that they came to kill and maim as many people as possible and to destroy as many homes as possible.”
The UN also dismisses the Israeli claim. Peter Hansen said Israel had the right to prevent weapons smuggling, but not through widespread destruction of civilian homes. “I am not enough of a tunnel demolition expert to know whether firing missiles from a helicopter is a good way to destroy tunnels, but I would not have thought so,” he said.