In another war crime perpetrated against Palestinian civilians and property, Israeli occupying forces, reinforced by tanks and helicopters, moved into Rafah refugee camp in the south of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, 23 December 2003.
Israeli forces have remained in the camp through the early afternoon, using intense shelling and indiscriminate shooting to cover their actions.
Rafah refugee camp is one of the most densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip and attacks by Israeli forces inevitably result in massive damage. Already today, the Israeli occupying army has killed 5 Palestinians, including 4 civilians, and wounded over 27 others, including a number of women and children.
In addition, 10 homes have been destroyed by explosive charges and armored Israeli bulldozers. The invasion has also resulted in massive damage to the civilian infrastructure of the refugee camp and Israeli occupying forces have imposed a curfew on the entire area. PCHR is gravely concerned that the continued intense presence of Israeli occupying forces will result in more casualties among Palestinian civilians and greater damage to the civilian infrastructure of Rafah refugee camp.
This recent Israeli invasion is part of an Israeli military strategy implemented in Rafah since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000. In three years Israeli occupying forces have destroyed over 800 Palestinian homes along the Egyptian border south of Rafah. Israeli authorities claim that this massive destruction is conducted for security reasons.
However, PCHR’s analysis of the facts on the ground strongly suggests that the Israeli occupying forces are establishing a large “buffer zone” along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. All Palestinian structures along the border have been demolished and the land has been leveled by Israeli bulldozers. Furthermore, Israeli occupying forces have constructed cement sniper towers and an iron wall on Palestinian land inside the southern border.
According to eyewitnesses in the Rafah refugee camp, Israeli occupying forces, reinforced by about 40 heavy military vehicles and 2 helicopters invaded the camp at approximately 02:30 Tuesday morning. Under the cover of intense shelling, Israeli forces moved approximately 400m into Block L, Block O and Block N adjacent to the Egyptian border. Israeli soldiers have entered a number of houses and transformed them into military posts. Soldiers have remained in these positions through the afternoon, using the houses to fire at the area. This morning, 2 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli gunfire while they were near their homes: Khalil Mohammed ‘Abdullah al-Qassas, 50, hit by a live bullet in the chest; and ‘Ali Hassan al-Najjar, 22, hit by a live bullet in the chest.
Soon after Israeli occupying forces seized control over the camp, they started to destroy Palestinian homes and civilian infrastructure. PCHR’s field officers have not been able to reach the area to check the damage, but there are reports which indicate that at least 10 houses have been demolished.
After the initial invasion, members of the Palestinian resistance clashed with Israeli occupying forces. During the clashes, an Israeli combat helicopter launched 2 missiles, killing Khamis Anwar al-Ra’ei, 21, with shrapnel throughout the body.
Throughout the day, Israeli occupying forces have continuously shelled the refugee camp from various posts and military vehicles along the border. This shelling has been accompanied by indiscriminate shooting from Israeli military positions resulting in the killing of 2 other Palestinian civilians: ‘Aa’ed Ibrahim al-Najjar, hit by a live bullet in the chest; and Ahmed al-‘Abed al-Najjar, 32, hit by a live bullet in the head.
One of the victims was hit by a live bullet while he was at work near the gate of Rafah Border Terminal, more than 2000m away from the refugee camp. In addition, more than 25 civilians, including 8 children and women, have been injured as a result of the Israeli invasion. There have been 7 cases of serious injury reported thus far. Additionally, PCHR’s field worker in Rafah reports that ambulances have faced difficulties accessing the area and residents have been forced to carry the wounded long distances to reach medical care.
In another invasion today, Israeli occupation forces attacked areas in the central Gaza Strip. Following an armed clash between members of the Palestinian resistance and Israeli soldiers on Monday evening, 22 December 2003, on “Kissufim” settler road, southeast of Deir al-Balah, which left several Palestinian resistance men and 2 Israeli soldiers dead, Israeli occupying forces moved into Abu Sha’ar area in Wadi al-Salqa village, east of Deir al-Balah.
This morning, Israeli forces destroyed 4 Palestinian homes in the two villages leaving 13 Palestinian civilians homeless. The houses belong to the al-Sumairi, al-Zar and Eslaisel families. Israeli occupying forces have also razed 12 donums of agricultural land planted with olives. The Israeli occupying army has maintained a presence in the area this afternoon, raising concerns that home demolitions and property destruction will continue.
PCHR strongly condemns the war crimes carried out today in the Gaza Strip. Such crimes have been systematically and increasingly perpetrated by the Israeli government and its occupying forces against Palestinian civilians and property.
PCHR asserts that such retaliatory acts and collective punishment by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians and property constitute war crimes and grave breaches of international law and humanitarian law.
PCHR believes that continued international silence serves only to encourage Israel and its occupying forces to perpetrate more war crimes and other grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949. In light of the above, PCHR calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to stop violations of human rights perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
PCHR also calls on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to fulfill their legal obligations to ensure respect for the Convention and take concrete steps to stop grave breaches of the Convention perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.