Israeli forces invade Khan Yunis and Beit Hanoun

In a further escalation of Israeli illegal military actions against Palestinian civilians and property, Israeli occupying forces invaded Khan Yunis and Beit Hanoun last night and this morning and destroyed a Palestinian house and 8 civilian facilities. They indiscriminately shelled these areas killing two Palestinians and wounding 13 others, two of whom were left in a serious condition. Some other houses and civilian facilities were severely damaged.

According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 22:45hrs on Saturday, 11 January 2003, around 50 Israeli heavy military vehicles, accompanied by military bulldozers and supported by helicopters, moved from al-Matahen junction on Salah al-Din Street and invaded the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis.

They imposed a curfew on the Palestinian residential areas surrounding the Palestinian security compound in the center of the town and opened fire in all directions. Soon, Israeli military bulldozers destroyed the sections of 4 civilian facilities facing out on to the road owned by the families of al-Bashiti, Mousa and al-Astal. Then, Israeli forces moved towards Jalal Street and took up position on the crossroads that link the quarters of the town with one another.

They planted explosives in 7 civilian facilities (including a metal work shop, a smithy workshop and a paint shop), which are located in a highly populated area. They destroyed them, causing severe damage to many houses and civilian facilities. Fire broke out in a house.

According to residents of the area, Israeli forces denied access of the Palestinian civil defense personnel to the area to extinguish fire that almost destroyed the house. At approximately 01:00hrs, an Israeli combat helicopter launched a missile at a group of Palestinian resistance and security men who confronted the invading Israeli forces.

‘Abdul Latif Suleiman Sa’id Wadi, 28, a member of the Palestinian National Security Force, was killed by shrapnel embedded throughout the whole of his body, while his colleague, Mohammed ‘Othman ‘Abdul Salam al-Qassas, 28, was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the neck. Also as a result of the Israeli indiscriminate shelling that continued until early hours today, 12 Palestinians were wounded, one of whom was in serious condition.

PCHR’s field worker in Khan Yunis reported that Palestinian ambulances faced difficulties in evacuating the wounded due to the intense Israeli gunfire, and that Israeli forces arrested two Palestinian civilians after having destroyed their workshop.

At approximately 01:00hrs this morning, about 40 Israeli heavy military vehicles, covered by intense gunfire and supported by helicopters, invaded the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun. After they had seized control over the town, Israeli forces surrounded the house of deceased Mohammed Samih al-Masri, who had carried out a bombing against an Israeli gunboat approximately two months ago, and destroyed it.

Residents of the 250-square-meter, asbestos-roofed house had already evacuated it expecting their house to be demolished. Eight neighboring houses were damaged. Also during the invasion, Israeli forces fired an artillery shell and live bullets at a Palestinian National Security Force facility, killing its officer, ‘Ali Zhaher Nassar, 45, with shrapnel and live bullets embedded throughout his body.

PCHR reiterates its condemnation of these Israeli illegal military actions, and calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to stop war crimes perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians and property.

PCHR believes that assaults against Palestinian civilian property and the collective punishment measures taken by Israeli occupying forces against families of Palestinian activists flagrantly violate the international humanitarian law, especially articles 33 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949.

PCHR reminds the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of their obligations under the Convention, not only to respect it, but also to ensure respect for it in all circumstances.

PCHR also reiterates its call for the High Contracting Parties to take crucial steps in the face of Israel’s challenge and denial of the provisions of the Convention, in order to compel it to comply with its legal obligations under the Convention. As along as the international community remains silent towards Israeli illegal military actions, Israel and the government of the war criminal Ariel Sharon are expected to perpetrate more war crimes against Palestinian civilians and property.