Israel’s Gaza offensive death toll rises to 668

Israel’s bombing of the al-Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City wiped out the al-Sammoni family, some of whom are still buried under the rubble of their destroyed home. (Mohamed al-Zanon/MaanImages)

The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) escalated its crimes on the eleventh day of its military offensive against the Gaza Strip. IOF’s attacks have killed hundreds of civilians and wiped out entire families in unprecedented, disproportionate bombardment of civilians targets. Tens of thousands have had to escape their homes and take shelter in United Nations schools or houses of relatives and friends. The hundreds of missile and artillery attacks daily have caused severe suffering for civilians, particularly children. Gaza has witnessed, and still witnesses, the largest forced displacement crisis since Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip in June 1967.

Al Mezan Center, which has maintained its monitoring activities throughout the current crisis, has collected evidence that the IOF deliberately targeted civilian structures and medical teams. In its attacks, the IOF used missiles and shells that are laser-guided, which indicates that civilian targets were hit intentionally, and not collaterally as Israel alleges. Yesterday, an IOF attack targeted UNRWA’s [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] al-Fakhoura School, where civilians were taking shelter. In a minute, 42 were killed, including 13 children.

According to information verified by Al Mezan Center, at approximately 3:35pm yesterday, Tuesday 6 January 2009, the IOF fired four artillery shells in the vicinity of al-Fakhoura School, which UNRWA had opened as a shelter for displaced civilians who escaped the fighting in north Gaza. Three shells landed and exploded in an open area opposite to the southwestern schoolyard. The fourth landed 50 meters west to the school, directly hitting two houses, which are inhabited by the families two brothers; Muin and Samir Deeb. Most of the members of their two families were killed. In all, the shelling killed 39 civilians immediately, and three others died at hospital from their wounds, raising the number of casualties to 42, including 13 children and six women. Another 50 civilians were also injured in this attack, of whom 15 were children and 10 women.

The IOF also killed another nine people in the north Gaza district, raising the death toll in the district to 51 between 2:30pm yesterday and 1pm today. The IOF bombarded and destroyed eight houses in the same district, causing damage to another 14 houses. One mosque and a vehicle were also destroyed.

In Gaza City, IOF’s attacks killed 24 people, including eight children. In the central Gaza district, at approximately 1:50pm on Tuesday 6 January 2009, the IOF bombarded two houses and three other structures, including a sports club. An air raid that targeted an evacuated house in the refugee camp of al-Nuseirat killed five-year-old child Yihya al-Taweel, and completely destroyed the house. Medical sources in the district’s hospital reported that a woman, 24-year-old Nisreen Abu Swirih, died from wounds she had sustained in an IOF attack on 3 January 2009.

In Khan Younis district, four people were killed by the IOF, including two children who died from wounds they had sustained in the previous days. The IOF, which continued its incursion into al-Zana neighborhood east of the towns of Abassan and Bani Suhaila, damaged 35 houses, 20 of which were completely destroyed. The IOF left this area at approximately 11am today.

In the southern Gaza’s district of Rafah, the IOF raided and destroyed eight houses, destroying them and causing damage to dozens of houses. The bodies of two men entered from Rafah Crossing, coming from Egypt where they were transferred for hospital care. One of them was identified as 22-year-old Basil Faraj, a cameraman working for Algerian TV. The second was identified as 18-year-old Ihab al-Harazeen.

Al Mezan Center expects that the number of casualties could rise in the Gaza Strip. Many civilians are still under the rubble of houses which the IOF had bombarded, particularly the houses of the al-Sammoni and al-Daya families in Gaza City. Al Mezan continues to report the cases it has been able to verify.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the continuous, criminal Israeli aggression against civilians in the Gaza Strip. The Center expresses its indignation with the failure of the international community to prevent the flagrant war crimes that have continued to be committed in Gaza by the IOF for 11 days, a failure only indicative of the continuous inability of the international community to live up to its legal and moral responsibilities vis-a-vis the civilian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As mentioned above, and in several other reports by Al Mezan Center, the IOF has shown overt disregard to civilians life and to the obligations Israel owes to the international community; especially by intentionally targeting civilians at their homes and mosques, and even in shelters, in a serious disrespect of the basic principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Al Mezan therefore renews its calls upon the international community to end its failure to protect civilians by taking effective measures to end the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. It calls upon:

  • The United Nations Secretary General to condemn the Israeli disproportionate use of force and the targeting of civilians and civilian objects in defiance of peremptory rules of international law, and to ensure that the UN Security Council and General Assembly take appropriate steps to address the situation in the Gaza Strip;
  • The United Nations Agencies to provide urgent humanitarian aid and safe shelters for Gazans who have been displaced and those living in threatened areas, and to ensure the protection of these shelters;
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross to double its efforts to ensure humanitarian access for civilians and ensure tending to the urgent needs for medicines, power and water;
  • The Human Rights Council to call upon the UN General Assembly to request the convening in Switzerland of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War, of 1949, to consider the breaches by Israel of its nonderogable obligations under the Convention in the course of its ongoing military actions in Gaza, and to consider the necessary measures to ensure respect of the rules set out in the Convention and its relevant protocols.
  • Civil societies around the world to exert pressure on their governments so that they act in conformity with the relevant human rights and humanitarian obligations as prescribed in relevant international law. Failure to take effective action to halt the continuous Israeli violations has only allowed for a grave situation to grow worse. Action must be taken immediately to ensure the protection of the civilian population in the occupied Gaza Strip.

This press release has been edited for clarity.

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