“Early this morning, the Red Crescent was called to evacuate the body of a man killed in the Tel a-Sultan neighborhood. Ashraf al-Khatib, the ambulance driver, told B’Tselem that soldiers who had taken over a nearby house shot at the ambulance team as they tried to reach the body. A man assisting with the evacuation was killed.
“According to al-Khatib, the IDF has dug trenches around Tel a-Sultan, preventing ambulances from entering the neighborhood. The Red Crescent received calls to treat 15 wounded and four dead in the area shelled by the IDF, however they are unable to evacuate them.
“According to reports given to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, at least one ambulance was hit by IDF gunfire during the night. According to a doctor that was in the ambulance, ‘at 3:00 am, we received a call that a person was injured in the Tel a-Sultan area. We went into the camp with lights flashing and our siren. We wore Red Crescent vests and did not see any soldiers as we went in. The army started shooting at us suddenly and wildly. The car was hit and we couldn’t continue. We left the ambulance and went into one of the houses.’
“Muhammad Qamise, a local radio journalist, told B’Tselem that the IDF has surrounded the Tel a-Sultan clinic and destroyed one of its walls. The IDF forbade the 18 clinic staff from leaving. According to Qamise, many residents report dead and injured who cannot be evacuated.”
In an affadavit to the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza about the 19 May 2004 attack on the demonstration, photographer Johannes Abeling stated that: “I was in the demonstration as thousands of people started to gather near the Al Awda Mosque in Rafah at around 2 pm. All the time I was in the middle of the demonstration. I noticed two armed Palestinians in the beginning of the demonstration, but saw them leave as the demonstrators marched within a few kilometers from where Israeli troops were positioned. I heard and saw no firing at the Israelis from within the demonstration. I heard flares of gunfire from Israeli troops as the mass of civilians continued to march. The first explosion I heard was a huge, and it targeted the front of the demonstration. There were numerous casualties. The Israelis fired no warning missiles near the demonstration before this. Then, I heard several explosions and saw people running everywhere. I saw what looked to be about 50 casualties (dead and wounded); many of them children. I do not understand why an army has fired missiles into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. This was a horrible experience.”
Warning: Graphic images belowAmnesty International reported on 21 May 2004 that “Demonstrators and eyewitnesses claim that the loss of life and injuries were caused by shelling from Israeli army helicopters and tanks stationed nearby. According to Israeli army officials, tanks shelled an empty building in order to deter the demonstrators from proceeding towards Israeli army positions; they also state that Israeli helicopters fired a missile at a nearby open space.
“The Israeli shelling hit a built-up area on Sea Street, the main east-west road in Rafah, where the Palestinian demonstrators were walking. An Israeli army aerial photograph published in the Israeli media shows that the building at which the tank shelling was aimed is located in a built-up area on the street where the demonstrators were marching. Israeli officials have alleged that the demonstrators were led by gunmen.
“While Amnesty International cannot confirm or deny the presence of armed Palestinians among the demonstrators, the organization’s delegates did not see any armed men when they passed the demonstration prior to the attack. In addition, they did not hear any Palestinian fire prior to or following the Israeli army shelling. Furthermore, the footage from television crews who filmed the demonstration prior to, during and after the shelling, reviewed by Amnesty International’s delegates, does not show armed individuals in the demonstration.”
Johannes Abeling is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He studied photography at the Royal Art Academy in the Hague. Since 1999, he has worked as a freelance photographer for several newspapers, magazines and organisations. His pictures have been published by, amongst others, Het Parool, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Arcam, SNV, Medicins Sans Frontieres, Plan Samenweking, Nieuwe Revu, Spui, Nirov, Woord & Gebaar, Metro and Trouw. Abeling can be reached via his website at www.abeling.nl. EI’s Nigel Parry compiled the text for this photostory.