GAZA: (9/1/2009): “Abu Salah died, his wife died. Abu Tawfiq died, his son died, his wife also died. Mohammed Ibrahim died, and his mother died. Ishaq died and Nasar died. The wife of Nael Samouni died. Many people died.
“There were maybe more than 25 people killed,” said Ahmed Ibrahim Samouni, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was wounded in the leg and chest, but survived the Israeli shelling of a house in north Gaza on January 4.
A report by the UN’s Office for the Co-coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 30 people were killed in the incident. Most were members of Ahmed’s family.
OCHA deputy chief Allegra Pacheco quoted eyewitnesses in the Zeitun district as saying Israeli troops had ordered about 100 civilians to get into the house and stay there, out of their way. But the following day the house was hit by Israeli shells.
“There are no bomb shelters in Gaza,” she said.
The Israeli army said it is investigating the incident.
Speaking to Reuters from his hospital bed in Gaza, the boy recounted how his family came to be herded into the building that was later targeted. “We were asleep when the tanks and the planes struck, we all slept in one room,” Ahmed said in a weak voice. “One shell hit our house. Thank God we were not hit.”
“We ran out of the house and saw 15 men … they landed from helicopters on rooftops of buildings. Soldiers beat residents and forced them all into one house.”
After the building was hit the next day and his mother was among those killed, Ahmed kept his three younger brothers alive and tried to help injured adults lying among the dead. “There was no water, no bread, nothing to eat,” he said.
Local Red Crescent rescue workers and a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to reach the house on January 7 after being denied access by the Israeli military for what the Red Cross called an “unacceptable” period. The children were starving when help finally reached the place, the Geneva-based ICRC said.
“They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses,” ICRC said.
Earth redoubts built by Israeli bulldozers blocked the streets so the ambulances could not get close. “The wounded had to be brought out on donkey carts,” Pacheco said.
“This is a shocking incident,” said Pierre Wettach, ICRC chief for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The ICRC accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the area and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded. “The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded,” he said.
In a written response, the Israeli army said it works in co-ordination with international aid bodies “so that civilians can be provided with assistance” and that it “in no way intentionally targets civilians”.