Israel fires on UN agency headquarters, civilians fleeing violence

An Israeli missile in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, 14 January 2009. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

1pm Gaza Time (+2hrs GMT)

The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) has seriously escalated its attacks on the Gaza Strip since midnight yesterday, as it advanced into Tel al-Hawa neighborhood southern Gaza City, and heavily bombarded the neighborhoods of al-Shejaiya and al-Tuffah in the east of the City. Al Mezan Center’s monitoring indicates that about 70 percent of IOF’s attacks casualties of these attacks are from families who were hit inside their homes or as they left their homes to flee these areas. Most of the other victims were also civilians. According to the field reports of Al Mezan, out of the 48 casualties of these attacks, three were fighters. Entire families were killed from IOF’s artillery shelling.

Between 1pm yesterday, Wednesday 14 January 2009, and 1pm today, Thursday 15 January 2009, the IOF killed 102 people in the Gaza Strip. Of them were 29 children and 11 women. Al Mezan’s monitoring also indicates that the IOF has killed 1,081 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since the start of its Operation Cast Lead on 27 December 2008. This includes at least 235 children and 81 women. The number of casualties is expected to be higher, since Al Mezan only reports on the cases which it has been able to verify. Moreover, 3,683 people have been injured, including at least 786 children and 460 women.

As estimated by Al Mezan Center in previous updates, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and rescue teams were able to reach one of the houses that had been destroyed with civilians inside them yesterday. The bodies of 22 members of the al-Samuni family were taken out from under the rubble of their house, including nine children and seven women. Five members of this same family had been reportedly killed on the same day with those 22, however, the ICRC was able to collect them last week. Two of the five were children and one was a woman. The family lost 27 (12 children and eight women) of its members in one Israeli attack on the house where they took shelter upon directions from the IOF.

At approximately 3:55pm yesterday, medical teams managed to reach and recover the bodies of four people, three of whom children, in al-Atatra area in the southwest of Beit Lahia. Al Mezan’s field worker in the area reported that their bodies were buried under rubble moved by Israeli bulldozers. The bodies were largely decomposed.

Today, starting at 8:10am, IOF started artillery shelling on northern Beit Lahia town. Shells hit the house of the Irmilat family, killing five civilians, including one elderly woman and four children. They were identified as:

  • Ayisha Ayyad Irmilat, 80;
  • Sabrin Atta Hassan Irmilat, 15; (and her sisters)
  • Bara Atta Hassan Irmilat, two;
  • Areej Atta Hassan Irmilat, nine months; and
  • Amal Atta Hassan Irmilat, 14;

In Gaza City, at approximately 1am today, Thursday 15 January 2009, about 40 IOF tanks and armored vehicles moved into the southern suburbs of the City coming from the former settlement of Nitzarim. They penetrated the neighborhoods of al-Zeitoun, al-Sabra and Tel al-Hawa, in the deepest incursion into Gaza City since the start of the ground invasion. IOF fired artillery and machine gun fire extensively. It also used guided missiles and what is believed to be white phosphorus bombs. As a result, 19 people, the cast majority civilians, were killed in the neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa.

At 9am today, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Ezadin Wahid Mousa in the al-Sabra neighborhood, killing the 48-year-old Mousa together with his wife and his four sons and daughters, including a 14-year-old daughter.
At approximately 3:30am, also today, Israeli aircrafts fired a missile into a group of civilians in the al-Shaaf neighborhood, northeast of Gaza City. Once ambulances arrived at the scene to collect the victims of the attack, aircrafts raided the same place again. As a result, seven people were killed, including a child.

At approximately 5:15am today, Israeli aircrafts raided the house of Fareed Shaban in the al-Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City, killing two brothers of the family.

At 1am today, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a group of civilians who were trying to flee from their homes, which are located in the al-Sabra neighborhood near the invasion area, killing five of them. Four were from the same family of al-Aloul.

At 10am, IOF artillery fire hit the house of Adel al-Jadba, which is located in the al-Tuffah neighborhood in the northeast of Gaza City, killing five, including two children.

IOF also continued to target journalists. At 11:15am today, it bombarded media offices located in the al-Shorouq Tower, where several local and international media studios are located. As a result, two journalists, Mohammed al-Swirki and Ayman al-Razzi, where injured.

In a yet serious escalation, the IOF fired three shells, which are believed white phosphorus shells, at the UNRWA [United Nations agency for Palestine refugees] warehouse in Gaza City. A huge fire started in the warehouse, which contains fuel and food reserves. The warehouse in located inside the UNRWA Headquarters in Gaza City. Earlier, at 10:15 am today, IOF had fired artillery into the Headquarters, causing severe damage to the main meeting hall and the car park inside it. Yesterday night, at 10:45pm, IOF targeted 50-year-old Nidal al-Whidi, an UNRWA officer, as he was getting into an UNRWA jeep.

In Rafah district, southern the Gaza Strip, Israeli aircraft raided, at approximately 12:32am today, the al-Abrar Mosque, which is located inside the town’s central market. The mosque was completely destroyed. Another 20 shops in the market were also completely destroyed. Dozens of houses and 10 other shops were damaged.

Also in Rafah, Israeli troops carried out an incursion in the eastern parts of the town, near the al-Nasser village. Tanks fired artillery and killed five people in this incursion.

Al Mezan Center, and based on its monitoring, strongly condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians inside their homes, and as they tried to flee from IOF bombardment. The Center asserts that the IOF’s acts represent scandalous war crimes that must be investigated and punished. It is urgent that the international community intervenes immediately to prevent the perpetration of more crimes, especially as the IOF’s incursions and indiscriminate attacks continue at this moment.

Al Mezan Center therefore renews its strong condemnation of the IOF’s aggression on the Gaza Strip, and its flagrant disregard of the applicable rules of international law. This behavior has so far cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and the suffering of hundreds of thousands.

Al Mezan renews its outrage by the, partly complicit, failure of the international community to prevent such violations of international law. While civilians are being murdered, the UN Security Council continues to fail to take meaningful, effective action, thus trading off non-derogable human rights and peremptory rules of international law for political considerations. War must not be allowed to be conducted in the way it is happening in Gaza, where civilians are willfully targeted, killed, maimed and strangulated to near death.

Hence, Al Mezan Center calls upon the UN Secretary-General, as a matter of utmost urgency, to focus on the protection of civilians who are the main victims of the violation of international law by Israel. Political debates can wait, however, civilian life cannot be compensated. The United Nations is called on to ensure the compliance with international law and the protection of civilians, including its own staff. Every hour of aggression on Gaza in the way we have witnessed during the past 16 days means the loss of more civilian life, destruction of property and extending the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people who should be protected, not neglected.

Al Mezan Center also calls on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, of 1949, to live up to their legal and moral responsibilities upholding their own obligations under Common Article 1, by respecting, and ensuring respect of, the Convection.

The Center, while commending the worldwide action against these violations, calls on civil societies around the world to exert more pressure on their governments so that they act in conformity with the relevant human rights and humanitarian obligations as prescribed in relevant international law.

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