On Tuesday, 13 May 2003, in a serious escalation in military activity, Israeli occupying forces invaded Khan Yunis refugee camp reinforced with more than 100 heavy military vehicles and supported by Apache gunships.
The four hour military operation left 26 Palestinian houses totally destroyed and more than 30 others damaged. The operation was accompanied by intense shelling of Palestinian residential areas, terrifying innocent Palestinian civilians, especially children, women and old and handicapped people, who escaped from their homes in search of refuge. Approximately 20 Palestinians, including 6 children, were also wounded.
According to PCHR’s investigation, at approximately 21:30 on Tuesday, 13 May 2003, more than 30 Israeli heavy military vehicles, including 3 bulldozers, moved into al-Sad al-‘Aali and al-Qatatwa in the northwest and west of Khan Yunis refugee camp. The Israeli military vehicles moved from two directions: from the so-called “al-Nouria” military location, west of the camp, and from military locations in the vicinity of al-Tuffah military checkpoint and “Neve Dekalim” settlement. Two US-made Apache gunships flew over the area to cover the incursion. Israeli forces also fired flare bombs. According to eyewitnesses, dozens of Israeli tanks moved from other directions and surrounded the entire Khan Yunis district.
Israeli occupying forces shelled houses in al-Sad al-‘Aali and al-Qatatwa areas. Israeli forces deployed in the quarter of the Abu Mustafa family and called on the residents of the area through megaphones to evacuate their houses, signaling that they would be demolished. Israeli soldiers then planted explosives in two houses belonging to the Abu Mustafa family and detonated them. As a result, 11 neighboring houses were totally destroyed and more than 30 others were severely damaged. Soon after, Israeli military bulldozers totally demolished 9 houses and 2 others partially. The electricity and telephone towers and branch roads on al-Bahar Street, the refugee camp’s main street, were severely damaged.
In al-Qatatwa area in the west of the camp, Israeli occupying forces totally demolished 4 houses. They also fired a shell at a store of foodstuffs located below a 5-storey apartment building owned by Fayez ‘Ouda Abu ‘Akar. The store totally was severely damaged.
At approximately 23:45, an Israeli helicopter gunship launched a missile at about 50 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, who escaped from their home to seek refuge when they thought that Israeli forces had withdrawn from the area. As a result, 16 civilians, including 6 children, were injured. One of them, ‘Alaa’ Mohammed Madhi, 16, sustained serious injuries. According to residents of the two areas, Israeli occupying forces withdrew at approximately 01:00 on Wednesday, 14 May 2003, leaving widespread destruction. According to medical sources, ambulances faced difficulties in attending the wounded as Israeli forces were firing indiscriminately.
The Israeli military operation left 36 families (247 civilians) homeless and the homes of more than 30 families (200 civilians) were severely damaged.
PCHR reiterates its condemnation for the daily violations of human rights, which constitute war crimes, perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians. PCHR expresses concern for the failure of the international community to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and property. PCHR asserts that the silence of the international community towards violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories serves to encourage Israeli occupying forces to escalate such violations against Palestinian civilians who are protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
PCHR calls upon:
1. The international community to provide immediate protection for the Palestinian civilian population.
2. The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to take steps to halt the recent escalation of Israeli aggression.
3. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to immediately visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories to witness the violations of Palestinian civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
4. Humanitarian organizations to provide immediate aid for the victims of violations of human rights perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces.
The Israeli policy of forcible migration adopted against Palestinian civilians, which includes the systematic demolition and destruction of houses, has had a disastrous impact on the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been made homeless as a result. Destruction of civilian property throughout the world should be considered a war crime, whose perpetrators should be brought to justice in accordance with international humanitarian law.