Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) raided a march in Rafah killing 8, most of them were children. This brings the death toll in the town to 32 since the beginning of the IOF operation started in the early morning hours of Tuesday. At midday on Wednesday 19 May 2004, approximately 100 were also reported injured. Ambulance movement services were still obstructed. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights documented several cases of bulldozing of streets and numerous cases of destruction and damage of houses in Tel Al Sultan neighborhood.
Eight Palestinian civilians were killed and dozens were wounded this afternoon when IOF helicopter guns-hips and tanks fired missiles and shells into a crowd of protestors who marched in Rafah. Eyewitnesses said most of the victims were children, and that four explosions at least were fired directly into the crowd. About 43 people were wounded in the incident including many women and children.
Israeli Military sources claimed that the IOF helicopter fired a warning missile at an empty field and four tank shells at an abandoned structure to break up the demonstration that included armed men. The source claimed that the casualties were a result of a tank shell that deviated from its route and asserted that IOF would not have deliberately target civilians.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights fieldworker reported that IOF targeted the demonstrators as they approached the area where IOF were stationed about one kilometer further. No warning missiles were fired and no Palestinian armed people were on the scene. The Center also collected the following affidavits from foreign journalists in this regards:
A radio Report by Dominic Subira, Catalunya Radio
“I was in the middle of the demonstration that started around 2 pm in Rafah, near the Al Awda Mosque. I saw no armed Palestinians in the demonstration (I was in the middle of the march). It was most definitely the Israelis who initiated the gunfire. I noticed helicopters firing heat balloons in the air, which did not explode. The first explosion I heard was from a shell that struck at the front of the demonstration. I then noticed that electricity lines made sparks and crackling sounds only 10 meters from where I was standing. In a few seconds I heard a huge explosion. People were running in every direction as another three explosions occurred. The first shell was aimed directly at the demonstration. The Israeli fired no warning missiles before this. Even while ambulances and civilian cars were collecting and transferring the wounded, the shelling continued. All the explosions took place at the site of the demonstration. The first shell caused numerous casualties.”
Affidavit given to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights by Johannes Abeling, a Dutch freelancer journalist who was in the Rafah demonstration:
“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.”
After investigation, the Al Mezan fieldworker confirmed that the “abandoned structure” referred to by the IOF as the target of the attack does not exist in the indicated area of Zourob Square, where IOF shelled a civilian march.
The targeting by the IOF of civilian crowds has escalated during its recent offensives in Rafah. Five civilians were killed in a missile strike at the door of a mosque at the beginning of the ongoing operation. The Center documented four other similar cases in Rafah refugee camp over the past five days. It should be noted that IOF has a history of targeting civilian structures during its operations. On 22 July 2002, IOF bombarded the Daraj neighborhood in Gaza city with a-2000-pound bomb and said it aimed to kill a Hamas leader. Israeli Prime Minister described this operation as ‘One of Our Biggest Successes’.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights issued a press release condemning IOF’s war crimes following the shelling of a march in Rafah, which caused dozens of casualties. The Center held the International Community responsible for the protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and called for immediate intervention. The Center added that the ‘shameful silence of the International Community is for a great deal encouraging Israel to proceed perpetrating war crimes’.
IOF’s operations in the Gaza Strip generated condemnation by the International community. The British Prime Minister described the offensive as ‘unacceptable and wrong’. Russia also denounced Israel’s illegal acts and said that ‘peaceful civilians are dying, dozens of homes are being torn out…., all of this deserves to be condemned’. (Source: Agence France-presse, May 19, 2004)
Arab Member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bshara said today that Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli Forces Chief of staff must be brought before an international court for ordering war crimes in Rafah.
Palestinian Superior Committee of the Islamic and National powers called Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims to demonstrate against Israel’s massacres in Rafah. The Committee announced that marches are to start today throughout towns and villages in Gaza and to gather at the Palestinian Legislative Council at 8 pm. In their press release, they called the United Nations and International Community to take punitive measures against the Sharon Government and to act to stop IOF massacres against civilians.
The Palestinian Agency to Protect the Rights of Refugees called upon national and international organizations to send urgent relief to Rafah and the International Community to protect Palestinian civilians. The Agency reminded that failure to do so will mean allowing a real disaster. It also called the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations under the Convention and put an end to Israel’s continued ‘grave breaches of the Convention’.
In a joint Islamic-Christian press release, religious institutions and figures condemned the Israeli military campaign in Rafah, in which numerous places of worship have been targeted. It considered the Israeli acts as crimes against humanity inscribed in a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. It called for immediate international intervention.
Palestinian Public Security spokesman condemned Israel’s claims that the two children of Al Mghaiar family were killed by a Palestinian explosive device aimed at IOF. He reaffirmed that the two children died from snipers’ gunfire according to medical reports and eyewitnesses. ‘It was an act of cold-blood killing of innocent children in their house, and we still keep the pictures that document the cause of their death’, added the spokesman.
Cyprus-Arab Solidarity Committee called the UN, EU, and all governments today to take steps to bring to an end Israel’s acts of killing and destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It said that the world should act before it was too late, especially under the serious escalation by the Sharon Government.
In their closing release of their 6th Summit, the Presidents of the African Coast and Saharan Countries called the International Community and the United Nations to fulfill their obligations and protect effective civilians for the Palestinian people and to pressure Israel to comply with International Law. They expressed their grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is caused by Israel’s acts of aggression, and condemned the construction of Jewish settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank. It also expressed the conferees’ solidarity with the Palestinian people and emphasized that a just peace can only be achieved through recognizing the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.
The Canadian government summoned the Israeli ambassador to voice concern about deaths of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip today. The United Nations envoy to territories considered Rafah attack as a violation of international law and said that the UN should consider arms embargo against Israel.
Palestinian eyewitnesses in Tel Al Sultan reported that an Israeli sniper injured a girl and that IOF prevented an ambulance from reaching her. Some of the residents of the neighborhood took the risk and pulled the child into a house to help her.
The president of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabeeh Berry, condemned Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian People, especially in Rafah. In his statement, Berry said that Israel is challenging the UNSC resolutions and International Law by such crimes and called the Arab League to enlist the recent aggression by IOF on the main Agenda of the coming Arab League Summit. Other Lebanese MP’s also condemned what they described as Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and questioned the Arab silence in the face of the killing of children and elderly in and the forcible eviction of civilians the Gaza Strip.
In additional helicopters’ attacks, IOF fired missiles on Rafah refugee camp this evening. Injuries were reported. Meanwhile, Defense the Israeli Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz said that Rafah operation was essential, and that IOF are to continue with it for as long as it remains necessary.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called on IOF command to initiate investigation into killing of numerous civilians in Rafah.
EU condemns Israel’s attacks on Rafah and describes them as `completely disproportionate and showing reckless disregard for human life`.