In a serious escalation of attacks against Palestinian civilians and their property, on 20 April 2004, Israeli occupying forces killed 9 Palestinians and injured about 40 others. A number of children were included in this figure, one of whom has since been pronounced clinically dead. This major incursion, which is still ongoing, is focused on the al-Nada housing project. The al-Nada project is located between the towns of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. A large number of the victims were hit in the upper body. This indicates the intention of Israeli occupying forces to cause serious injury and fatalities among Palestinian civilians. Reports are still coming into PCHR about further casualties; this is of particular concern as Israeli forces have reportedly fired on ambulances.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 09:30, on Tuesday, 20 April 2004, 3 Israeli tanks and 2 military bulldozers moved from “Nissanit” settlement, north of Beit Lahia. The tanks were positioned on a hill, approximately 150 meters to the northwest of the al-Nada housing project in the northern Gaza Strip, while bulldozers leveled areas of land. In the meantime, Israeli occupying forces completely closed Erez crossing and imposed restrictions on the movement of international staff and diplomats. At approximately 12:00, a number of Palestinian children and young men gathered in the area and threw stones at Israeli military vehicles. In an excessive and disproportionate use of force, Israeli soldiers in the tanks fired live bullets and artillery shells at the stone throwers. Until 20:30, 4 Palestinian civilians, including 2 children, were killed: Mo’tassem Rafiq Mohammed Nusair, 18, from Beit Hanoun, hit by a live bullet to the head; Khaldoun Ziad Hassan Abu Jarad, 17, from Beit Lahia, hit by a live bullet to the head; Ibrahim basher Rayan, 19, from Tal al-Za’tar, hit by a live bullet to the head; and Mohammed Ibrahim ‘Ata al-Tanani, 17, hit by a live bullet to the chest.
In addition, 24 civilians, including 21 children, were wounded. One of the children was pronounced clinically dead.
At approximately 03:00 on Wednesday, 21 April 2004, about 30 Israeli heavy military vehicles, supported by helicopters, moved from Erez crossing and “Nissanit” settlement into Beit Lahia. They razed areas of Palestinian agricultural land and destroyed the fence of a building of the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs, which was still under construction. At approximately 05:45, an Israeli helicopter launched a missile at a number of members of the Palestinian resistance who were near the offices of the Ministry of Education in the area. Five members of the resistance and a member of the Palestinian Security Forces were wounded.
At approximately 09:00, a number of members of the Palestinian resistance clashed with Israeli occupying forces, while some civilians were throwing stones at these forces. Immediately, Israeli helicopters and tanks opened fire at them. Four resistance men and a child were killed: Suhail ‘Abdul Karim al-Heresh, 25, hit by a live bullet to the neck; Mohammed ‘Abdul Muttaleb al-‘Ajjouri, 18, hit by a live bullet to the chest; Ra’fat Abu Hassira, 28, hit by a live bullet to the head; Mohammed Khader al-Rantissi, 18, hit by a live bullet to the head; and Radwan Samara Hamttu, 16, hit by a live bullet to the heart.
PCHR’s field worker in the northern Gaza Strip reported that Israeli occupying forces opened fire at an ambulance of the Palestinian Ministry of Health that was trying to reach one of the wounded. The vehicle was hit by several bullets, but its personnel were not inside at the time. The wounded person remained in the area bleeding. Israeli forces also started to raze areas of Palestinian agricultural land.
PCHR strongly condemns these Israeli actions, which constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They indicate Israel’s disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law. PCHR asserts that the Israeli policies serve to increase tension in the region and threaten the lives of Palestinian civilians. PCHR calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to prevent further deterioration of the situation in the OPTs. PCHR also reminds the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of their legal obligations under the Convention to ensure protection for Palestinian civilians in the OPTs.