Early this morning, Friday October 10, 2003, Israeli occupying forces conducted a large scale incursion into the Rafah refugee camp, adjacent to the Egyptian border in the southern Gaza Strip. Under cover of intense shelling and gunfire from tanks and helicopters, Israeli forces invaded the area which is one of the most densely populated in the Gaza Strip.
At the time of writing, 6 people have been killed, including 2 children, and 38 civilians have been injured, including women, children and elderly people. Approximately 10 houses were destroyed in the attack, some completely and some partially, and there has been widespread destruction to buildings, roads and other aspects of the civilian infrastructure. Israeli occupying forces have imposed a strict curfew on the area.
According to Israeli military sources, this operation is set to continue for several days, during which time PCHR is gravely concerned that further crimes will be committed against civilians in the area. PCHR believes that this latest attack is part of a wider strategy which has already resulted in the destruction of hundreds of houses adjacent to the Egyptian border, justified by Israeli authorities for ‘security’ reasons.
However, the facts on the ground prove that these demolitions are part of a strategic policy to clear a large area of Palestinian land near the border with Egypt to facilitate a wide buffer zone to increase Israeli military control in the area. Israeli forces have begun construction of a concrete and metal wall parallel to the border with Egypt on land cleared of Palestinian homes in similar demolition operations.
According to information collected by PCHR, at approximately 12 midnight, more than 80 Israeli tanks, accompanied by military bulldozers and helicopters, moved approximately 300 meters into Blocks L and J of the Rafah refugee camp, adjacent to the Egyptian border. Under cover of heavy shelling by the tanks and helicopters, Israeli forces raided and took over several houses in the area, using them as military posts. Bulldozers demolished houses, buildings and aspects of the civilian infrastructure. As a result of the severity of this operation, at the time of writing, it is not possible to provide conclusive figures for the number of houses and families affected by this attack.
Soon after Israeli forces moved into the area, clashes broke out between members of the Palestinian resistance and Israeli forces, during which time 2 armed Palestinians were killed. 4 other Palestinians, including 2 children, were killed as a result of indiscriminate shelling and shooting from tanks and helicopters into the densely populated area. 38 civilians were injured, including 11 children, 6 women and 6 elderly people. PCHR’s field worker reported that the 6 elderly people were injured when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at around 4.20am towards a group of houses and a Palestinian woman and her daughter were forced to wait for 3 hours for medical assistance after they were injured while in their home.
During the attack, Palestinian ambulances were fired at while attempting to evacuate the wounded and one of the medics, Raja Salah Omer, 30, was shot in the back and is currently in a critical condition. PCHR’s field workers reported that ambulances and medical teams faced severe difficulties in evacuating the injured to hospitals in other areas of the Gaza Strip, due to the severe closures currently being imposed on the entire OPT. The major hospitals are located in Gaza City and it is currently impossible to travel from Rafah to the north. For the 6th consecutive day, Israeli forces have imposed a comprehensive closure on the entire OPT, closing off the borders with Israel and Egypt as well as dividing up the Gaza Strip into 4 parts.
Of the 6 killed, 5 have been identified as: Mohammed Ahmed Abd al-Wahab, 23, shot in the abdomen; Nader Ahmed Fouad Abu Taha, 23, shot in the chest; Ibrahim Ahmed Qrainawi, 8, shot in the abdomen; Alaa Noaman Mansour, 33, shot in the abdomen; and Sami Talal Salah, 15, hit in the head by shrapnel from a tank shell.
PCHR condemns this latest crime committed in Rafah and remains deeply concerned about the ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, carried out by Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT. PCHR has consistently reiterated its concerns about the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian civilian property, including homes, educational and health facilities, commercial properties, and civilian infrastructure. The extensive destruction of civilian property, carried out wantonly and unlawfully without military necessity, constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
PCHR reasserts that the ongoing silence of the international community, specifically the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the failure to intervene to ensure protection for the Palestinian civilian population has served to encourage further violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Thus, PCHR calls upon the international community to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT.