GAZA CITY - Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun have described finding bodies dismembered by what they said was Israeli artillery fire early this morning, and added that many residents were fleeing the town for fear of further violence.
They told how they have been left without water - and in many cases homes - after the Israeli military occupied the town of 50,000 inhabitants for a week before bombarding it less than 24 hours after withdrawing.
“Right now, the only thing the people of Beit Hanoun need is to live,” said Yamen Zaqqout, a 28-year-old computer programmer.
Eighteen Palestinians died in this morning’s bombardment, Palestinians said, adding to more than 60 Palestinian deaths during Israel’s week-long occupation of Beit Hanoun, which ended on Tuesday. The Israeli government said it was investigating this morning’s bombardment.
“Israel has no desire to harm innocent people, but only to defend its citizens. Unfortunately, in the course of battle, regrettable incidents such as that which occurred this morning do happen,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Zaqqout told IRIN of the carnage he found at about 5 a.m. this morning, when most of Beit Hanoun’s 50,000 residents were enjoying their first proper night’s sleep for a week.
“I found bodies without heads, children’s bodies without hands, some without legs. We found a husband, wife and children who were still on their bed - we thought they were still asleep until we tried to wake them up,” he said.
“We were all sleeping. We had spent a very bad week during the occupation when we slept about three hours a night but after the Israelis left we felt we could finally sleep, deeply.
“I didn’t hear the shelling but my brother woke me and we ran to the street where the shells hit. Some of the buildings they hit had up to 40 members of the same extended family living inside in separate apartments.
Zaqqout also described the conditions during the previous week when he and his family were confined to their home.
“We had enough food - but one of our neighbours spent two days without food until the Israelis said there would be a window of two hours for women only to go out and buy food.
“Another neighbour was pregnant and had to give birth. We spent two hours waiting for the ambulance because it had to get permission to come,” he said.
Dr Jamil Suleiman, 42, a paediatrician at Beit Hanoun Hospital, told IRIN that hospital staff had worked day and night during the week-long occupation of the town with little water, electricity and medication.
“We had no water because the Israelis damaged the water supply system, we had no electricity and we had very little medication,” he said.
“The Israelis demolished many houses and more than 1,000 people who lost their homes came to the hospital - they needed something to eat and drink because they had nothing.
“Already we had very little food and drink for staff and patients. They slept outside at the back of the hospital and many of them are still there now.
“Two of the injured were mentally-ill residents of Beit Hanoun who did not understand what was going on and were wandering around the streets when they were shot by Israeli snipers.”
Dr Jihad Hammad, 39, a professor of political sociology at Al-Aqsa University, said the scenes of demolished houses and ripped-up roads left by the Israeli troops were comparable to the devastation found after an earthquake.
“The whole city is totally damaged - it was like an earthquake. The streets are destroyed - you can’t even drive your car,” he said.
“Right now you walk around Beit Hanoun and on every corner you find people crying.
“People don’t have anywhere to stay and are leaving Beit Hanoun. But many have no options and nowhere to go. At the mosque they are reading the Holy Qur’an.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it believed this morning’s artillery fire had been directed at Palestinian rocket launchers some distance from the area where the Palestinian deaths were reported, although its investigation was continuing.
It said its week-long occupation of Beit Hanoun, codenamed Autumn Clouds, was intended to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets at Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip and said troops discovered weapons, arrested militants and made sure humanitarian aid got into the town.
This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.