Six people were killed and six others seriously injured on Wednesday when an unexploded 500 kilogram Israeli missile blew up in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, as weapons disposal experts were attempting to make it safe.
Bilal Muhammad al-Sultan, Rahed Taysir Ali al-Hom, Hazem Ahmad Abu Murad and Saeed Talal Salman were killed in the explosion.
They were part of a small team of experts who defuse unexploded munitions and were working constantly around the Gaza Strip in the last month since Israel began its attacks on 7 July.
An Italian videographer for the Associated Press, Simone Camilli, and a Palestinian journalist and interpreter, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were also killed “as they were reporting a story about Gaza’s efforts to dispose of a mountain of deadly debris left behind after a month of war,” reports The Washington Post.
Hatem Moussa, a Gaza-based photographer for AP, was injured but reported to be in stable condition at al-Shifa hospital.
The Guardian reports that “One day last week, while the last tenuous ceasefire held in Gaza, al-Hom received seventy calls. In this conflict alone, he had dealt with 400 ‘objects.’”
An Al Jazeera English video report recently featured Hazem Abu Murad, head of field operations for Gaza’s police bomb squad, at work attempting to defuse missiles fired from US-made Israeli F-16 jets. “Of course my job is very dangerous, but I’m doing my duty for my people,” Abu Murad explained to Al Jazeera. (If you cannot view the video on Al Jazeera’s website due to content geoblocking, you can view it here).
He estimated that between eighteen to twenty thousand tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza from airstrikes, artillery, tanks and naval bombardments since 7 July. He estimated that there are more than one thousand tons of unexploded Israeli ordnance strewn across Gaza, posing a dangerous risk for civilians as well as bomb disposal experts like Abu Murad and his team.
Because of the Israeli-Egyptian siege and blockade on Gaza, these munitions experts have been prevented from accessing necessary protective gear and robotic equipment that their counterparts in other countries rely on to do this critical but dangerous work.
In a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald, reporter Ruth Pollard followed Hazem Abu Murad and his team as they found and disarmed munitions. She writes:
Theirs is one of the most dangerous jobs in Gaza but they have no protective suits, no robots and no portable X-ray systems. Instead, they assess the situation — a potential unexploded mortar, shell or missile — on sight alone and work out the safest way to disarm and dispose of it as far from civilians as possible.
… “With every escalation the threat is renewed, this creates new victims and the process of clearing Gaza of these explosive remnants of war must begin all over again,” [Abu Murad] said.
“Eighty per cent of the victims of these weapons are children … and soon we will be facing a lot more of these victims.”
Abu Dhabi-based The National recently featured Abu Murad’s heroic work under these extremely dangerous circumstances.