Middle East & Africa
Peaceful Demonstration Bombed
Israel Continues Hammering Palestinians
in Rafah Despite Worldwide Outcry
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
Gaza City, May 20, 2004 — More Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers have been pushed into the city of Rafah to reinforce the already present forces in this southern Gaza Strip city, which Israel claims is a hotbed for militants and includes a network of weapon-smuggling tunnels, despite worldwide condemnation and a recently adopted resolution by the UN Security Council. The Security Council adopted a resolution yesterday calling on Israel to cease its demolition of Palestinian houses in the city of Rafah, as well as condemning the loss of innocent lives in the city and its refugee camp. The resolution was adopted by 14 members, a rare unanimity, while the United States alone abstained, the first time in nearly two years that it didn't exercise its veto on a resolution sharply critical of Israel. However, the American administration was far from condemning the Israeli offensive, urging both Palestinians and Israelis "restraint." "I continue to urge restraint," President Bush told reporters in Washington. "It is essential that people respect innocent life in order for us to achieve peace." Meanwhile, the large-scale Israeli military campaign on the city of Rafah, the largest invasion in three and a half years of violence, continued, as medical sources declared that seven Palestinians have been killed in a new Israeli air strike in the city.
|Palestinian evacuating a severely child after Israeli helicopters bombed a peaceful demonstration in the city of Rafah. Courtesy Reuters|
Israeli combat helicopters have bombed a peaceful demonstration in Rafah yesterday noon, killing more than 15 civilians, most of them children, and wounding more than 60, doctors at Abu Yousef Al Najjar hospital in Rafah declared. Witnesses told ST correspondent over the phone that about 3,000 Palestinians marched from a downtown square in Rafah towards the area of Tal Al Sultan, the focal point of Israeli military operations and house demolitions. Demonstrators were chanting slogans condemning the Israeli occupation and demanding the uplifting of siege on Tal Al Sultan, while Israeli warplanes hovered over the crowds. Abdel Karim Zorob, 26, a participant in the demonstration, said that the Israeli combat helicopters fired about four missiles at the crowds, and that the missiles landed in the middle of them. "The first missile exploded among the crowds, so I ran and lied on the ground face down. I saw men and children torn into shreds by the missile blasts, as blood burst from others due to the heavy shrapnel that flew around. "Nobody expected the Israeli forces would bomb a large peaceful demonstration. We knew the helicopters would not fire at us, as there were many children among us, and we were demonstrating peacefully," Zorob said. Ahmad Abu Hussein, 38, an eyewitness, could not believe his eyes as the missiles pounded the demonstrators. "It was barbaric .. I could not believe they were so vicious as to bomb children and men. Some of the demonstrators were carrying food supplies and blankets for the besieged families at the Tal Al Sultan area.
|Nasser Al Kidwa, Palestine's permanent observer at the UN, addressing the Security Council before voting for the resolution condemning Israel's actions in Rafah. Courtesy AP |
"I personally evacuated two of the dead to the ambulances, as well as four of the wounded, three of them were children," Abu Hussein reminisced.
|Palestinian youth carrying one of the wounded children as smoke rises from the place where Israeli helicopters bombed a peaceful demonstration in Rafah. |
Dr. Ali Mousa, director of Abu Yousef Al Najjar hospital, said that the morgue of the hospital overflowed with bodies, as they had to store some of the bodies in refrigerators used to preserve vegetables and flowers. "We are a local hospital poorly equipped to face disasters like that. We had to store some of the dead bodies in vegetable-preserving refrigerators nearby, as many of the wounded were treated on the floor," he said. Dr. Mousa called on the citizens of Rafah to come to the hospital and donate blood, as the hospital suffered a shortage in blood units and medical supplies. Five more Palestinians were killed early Thursday. Three of them were killed in a missile strike in the camp at about midnight, doctors said. Before daybreak, two others were killed by a tank shell near the border, doctors added. Another citizen was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on top of a building in Rafah, while four others were wounded by the same gunfire, medics said. In another incident early Thursday, Israeli forces destroyed a four-storey building in the camp belonging to the Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam and a small sports club, residents said. Angry demonstrations erupted throughout the Palestinian territories, following the news of the air strike at the demonstration, as protestors condemned the Israeli crimes and demanded an immediate end to it. Shops and businesses closed its doors for one day across major Palestinian cities, mourning the nearly 50 Palestinians killed since the Israeli operations began in the city of Rafah since May 13.
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Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.