IDF forces launched an incursion into the Rafah Refugee Camp early this morning. Israeli officials describe the incursion as the largest military operation since Operation Defensive Shield in the Spring of 2002.
Throughout the day B’Tselem has received reports of severe harm to the civilian population, including deaths, injury to medical teams, obstruction of medical care, house demolitions, and damage to infrastructure including roads, water and electricity.
The IDF has prevented movement into and around the refugee camp. As a result, most of the following reports are based solely on telephone testimonies. The information provided has been verified as much as possible under the present circumstances.
The reports are intended as examples and do not purport to provide the whole picture or the most grave events taking place in Rafah.
Man Killed Evacuating Body
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.
This evening, B’Tselem received reports that the road connecting Rafah to Khan Yunis had been opened to ambulances. As a result of coordination with the ICRC, the wounded from the Yusuf a-Najar hospital in Rafah are being moved to the European hospital in Khan Yunis.
Civilians Under Fire - Reports from Tel a-Sultan and Block O
Tamer Kishta, Journalist : “At 2:50 this morning, apache helicopters fired two missiles at the building next to the Bilal ben Rabah mosque. The second floor of the building was demolished entirely. The army prevented a Red Crescent ambulance from reaching the dead and wounded. The IDF is now destroying houses next to the Rafiah Yam settlement.
Ibrahim Abu Shatat: “The IDF has the whole area surrounded and shot missiles at homes in Block O. Four people were killed. In the Shabura area another man was killed. There are no apaches in the air now, but there is gunfire, tank shelling and soldiers in the streets. The army destroyed the infrastructure, so we have no water or electricity.”
Muhammad Qura: “The electricity was cut off at four this morning. I hear a lot of explosions, shelling, automatic gunfire. I also hear the sound of bulldozers working. Now they are quite close by. I can’t see anything because I’m afraid to open the windows.”
198 Families Made Homeless Over the Weekend
B’Tselem’s detailed investigation into the IDF action in Rafah this weekend reveals that the IDF destroyed 116 houses, leaving 198 families (1,160 people) homeless.
On Sunday, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled to allow the IDF to demolish houses without a court hearing in cases of “urgent military necessity.” This ruling allows the military to continue its mass house demolitions in Rafah, and gives the IDF full discretion as to when to allow a court hearing prior to demolition. In issuing this ruling, the Court has shirked its obligation to balance security considerations with the rights of Palestinian civilians who are not involved in the hostilities.
When addressing events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Court consistently disregards its obligations regarding human rights and international law, and uncritically adopts the position of the security establishment.
The recent demolitions are not an isolated event. Since the beginning of 2004, the IDF has demolished 284 homes in Rafah, leaving 2,185 Palestinians homeless. Over the past three and a half years, the IDF has demolished some 1,800 homes in the Rafah Refugee Camp. House demolition on such a massive scale cannot be justified as “urgent military need.”
In a press release, B’Tselem stated that the death of IDF soldiers cannot justify severe harm to civilians, who were not involved in the hostilities. Such massive destructions of civilian property are illegal under international humanitarian law.
B’Tselem calls on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to order an immediate halt to plans for further demolitions. The organization also calls on the Israeli government to compensate families who lost their homes and to provide them with alternative housing.
Now’s the Time to Act
Circulate this page, write letters to your local newspaper, convince others to take action. Write to Prime Minister Sharon, and to your Israeli ambassador, reminding them that the IDF is not upholding its obligations under international humanitarian law: it is forbidden to shoot civilians who take no part in hostilities; the wounded must be evacuated as quickly as possible; it is forbidden to demolish houses, except as a last resort in the course of fighting; it is forbidden to employ collective punishments of the civilian population.