Israeli attack on civilians at protest in Rafah

Israeli tank in Rafah between the Egyptian border and demolished Palestinian homes (Photo: Anja Meulenbelt)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is shocked at today’s unprecedented attack on a Palestinian civilian demonstration by Israeli occupying forces (IOF).  An IOF helicopter gunship fired a missile into a civilian demonstration in Rafah town, killing and injuring dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children.  This is the latest action in the recent escalation of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes, perpetrated by the IOF in the Gaza Strip.  This wholly disproportionate attack demonstrates total contempt for the lives of Palestinian civilians and for the rules of international law.

According to PCHR’s preliminary investigations, this afternoon, Wednesday 19 May 2004, a civil demonstration was organized by the residents of Rafah town and refugee camp.  Thousands of residents gathered to march in protest against the ongoing Israeli military offensive conducted in the Tel As-Sultan area of the town since Monday. 

The march was heading towards the Tel As-Sultan area at around 14:10 this afternoon.  When the first of the marchers were approximately 500 metres from the entrance to the Tel As-Sultan area, an IOF helicopter gunship fired a missile into the crowd of marchers.  Eye-witnesses also reported that IOF stationed at the nearby Israeli military post at Tel Zu’rub fired tank shells and opened fire from machine guns at the marchers at the same time as the missile strike.  At time of press, 8 civilians have been registered as killed in this incident, including four children.  A further 50 Palestinians have been injured, including 10 who remain in a critical condition.  Six of those killed have been identified as: Walid Naji Abu Qamar, 10, from Rafah; Mubarak Salim Al Hashash, 11 from Rafah; Mahmoud Tareq Mansour, 13, from Rafah; Mohammed Talal Abu Sha’ar, 20, from Rafah; Alla Musalam Sheikh-Eid, 20, from Rafah; Fuad Khamis Al-Saqqa, 31, from Rafah

This brings the total number of Palestinians killed in Rafah in the last 48 hours to 31. 

The willful killing of, and willfully causing serious injury to, a protected civilian constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention (article 147) and war crimes as defined in article 85.5 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

PCHR reiterates is total condemnation of today’s unlawful attack on a civilian crowd in Rafah.  PCHR demands that the international community, specifically the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, take immediate action to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.  Without immediate intervention, PCHR is gravely concerned that the situation will continue to deteriorate further.

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