On the first day of the Israeli offensive in Rafah, 20 Palestinians were killed by 6 pm, 7 of whom are children. Medical sources, as well as Al Mezan’s own fieldworker, reported that the number of the injured reached over 50 while ambulance movement is still obstructed, contrary to an Israeli Army’s statement. Medical staff are still being besieged in a house as Israeli tanks surround the area and fire on anything moving.
Eyewitnesses in Rafah reported to Al Mezan’s fieldworker that Asmaa Khalifa, a teacher who lives in Tel Al Sultan, could not reach a medical center to give birth to her baby. With tanks in front of her house firing at anything that moves, she was taken from window to window till she reached the house of a midwife in the area.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights issues an urgent letter to the United Nations’ Secretary General requesting effective International intervention to stop war crimes being perpetrated in Rafah and other places in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The letter asserts that international intervention over the past few days has done nothing to stop the IOF invasion. It then calls for more effective intervention by the United Nations and the international community to fulfill its legal and moral obligations under International Law.
Al Mezan’s fieldworker, Muhammad Abdullah, reports the killing of three children in Rafah, including a 13-year-old boy and his 16-year-old sister when random Israeli machine-gun firing hit their home in the Tel Al Sultan neighborhood. The two children were Ahmad Muhammad Al Mghaiar (13), and Asmaa Muhammad Al Mghaiar (16). Both children died from bullet wounds to their heads.
The Arab League condemns Israel’s operation in Rafah and says it is aimed at the ethnic cleansing and illegal collective punishment of Palestinians. Several Arab Governments announced they were going to sue Israel for perpetrating crimes of war in Rafah.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the new operation, called “Rainbow”, which started in the early morning hours today, Tuesday 18 May 2004, is to continue for as long as the IOF see necessary.
Al Mezan’s fieldworker reported that IOF forces opened the main street between Rafah and Khan Yunis at 4:30 pm but closed it again at 7:30 pm, Tuesday 18 May 2004. This procedure will allow for ambulance movement to hospitals out of Rafah, badly needed as the number of the killed and injured is increasing.
Sources in Rafah said that the IOF carried out an operation in a neighborhood that is far from the border with Egypt (Tel as-Sultan). The IOF have never reported tunnels in this neighborhood. In addition, IOF showed smuggling tunnels twice on the media, while Al Mezan’s documentation reports that IOF discovered and destroyed three tunnels and the Palestinian Authority closed seven since September 2000. These facts contradict the IOF’s pretext for today’s operation in the town of Rafah.
The IOF are digging deep holes in the main street connecting Tel Al Sultan neighborhood and the refugee camp of Rafah.
Rafah Mayor, Mr. Said Zoroub, has informed Al Mezan Center for Human Rights that the town suffers a serious lack of drinking water due to an electricity cut off. He added that the IOF are prohibiting the Municipality’s workers from repairing the destroyed water mains and electricity lines making the situation even worse.
Al Mezan’s lawyers have intervened six times in emergency humanitarian cases today. Details are as follows:
Israeli tank fired a shell on a civilian car owned by the World Vision Canada. The car was entirely burnt and destroyed. A neighboring house, Al Bayumi family house, was affected, too. The World Vision’s Project Coordinator, Shafeeq Yousif said the car was parked near his house.
IOF bulldozed a newly paved street in Tel Al Sultan. No reasons were given by IOF to justify the bulldozing.
In a press release, Dr. Abdul Wahid Bul Qzeez, the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference Organization, condemned Israel’s demolition of homes in the OPT, and especially in the town of Rafah. He said that Israel’s actions constitute a clear violation of international law and considers the IOF’s collective punishment acts as crimes of war. Bul Qzeez called for international presence to protect Palestinian civilians and invited the Islamic countries to send relief aid to the OPT.
Yusi Sarid of Israel Meretz party criticized Israel’s army operation in Rafah and described it as an illegal act. He added in a press release issued today that this operation endangers women and children. Sarid questioned the army’s claims that homes are only destroyed when used by militants to fire from them and said that these excuses are not accurate. He asserted that the Israeli forces destroy homes inside the town for different reasons, including expanding the illegal Philadelphi route.
The Government of Japan prompted Israel to immediately stop its home demolitions in Rafah in a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today. The statement added that the circle of violence would only worsen the situation and called for dialogue and the implementation of the Roadmap.
The Israeli High Court rejected a third petition requesting banning IOF’s home demolitions in Rafah today. In its ruling No. 4694/04 dated 18 May 2004, the Court permitted house demolition when justified by military necessity or when a soldier’s life is endangered. Again, the Court’s wording is very general and leads to controversial interpretations.
Arab Knesset Member, Jamal Zahalqa, was expelled from Israeli Knesset meeting today. In his speech before the Knesset, Zahalqa accused Israel of perpetrating war crimes in Rafah, including killing civilians, banning ambulance movement and demolition of civilians’ homes. He added that the number of Palestinians who have been made homeless by IOF is more than the number of Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip. he also remarked that there are people in Israel carrying out crimes, others clapping for them, others justifying them, others keep silent, and that silence is a crime.