Civilian Death Toll Rises After Second Day of Air Strikes

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Civilian Death Toll Rises After Second Day of Air Strikes

Death toll moves above 300. Calls for investigation after seven students at UN college die in missile attacks

by
Hazem Balousha in Gaza City, Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

Palestinians mourn over a body during the funeral of Ramzi Al Dheni and Ahmed Hammad, at a mosque in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008. The two were killed in an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza on Tuesday, dealing a new blow to efforts to restore a cease-fire. The army said it attacked militants who fired mortar shells at Israeli troops. Palestinian medical officials said the dead were civilians, boys ages 16 and 17.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

To the doctors at the Shifa
hospital in Gaza City it was another body on a chaotically busy day. By
early Saturday afternoon the morgue was already overflowing so they
laid out the corpse of 20-year-old Ali Abu Rabia on the floor outside.
One of the hospital staff pulled out a mobile phone from his pocket,
scrolled through the numbers, and called the young man's father.

"I
was at work. Someone from the hospital called and said they had found
my son," said Marwan Abu Rabia, 44, a plumber. "I went straight to the
hospital and found him lying on the floor outside the morgue. There
were too many bodies. It looked like a massacre."

The hospital
was so crowded staff held back relatives outside the building and
turned away the lightly injured. They struggled to treat the seriously
hurt, some of whom lay on beds in the corridors because of the
congested wards.

Palestinian officials said the death toll from
Saturday's air strikes was at least 280, with another 600 people
injured. Most are thought to be police or security officials, but among
the casualties were many civilians.

Several more Palestinians
were killed and injured yesterday, although the Israeli air strikes
were less extensive. One Israeli civilian was killed on Saturday by a
rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza.

Ali Abu Rabia
was a student at a UN vocational college for Palestinian refugees in
the Rimal district of Gaza City. He sat an exam on Saturday morning,
his father said, and after the first Israeli air strikes decided to go
home. He was standing in the street with others when an Israeli missile
struck, at around 1.30pm. Reportedly it had been aimed at a policeman
seen nearby with a walkie-talkie.

"It was a place full of
students. It was not a military base. But in spite of this they still
attacked, all because of one policeman," said Ali's father as he
greeted mourners at a funeral tent at his home yesterday "Our situation
is very bad and the cause is Israel. The response has to be very
tough." He said he doubted there would be a peace agreement with Israel
in the coming years. "I don't believe they want an independent
Palestinian state," he said.

In that single air strike seven
students were killed and another 20 were injured. The Guardian has
learned of several other civilians who were killed and injured in the
same strike on Saturday.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UN
Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees and feeds
750,000 Gazans, called for an inquiry into the attack. "Grave question
marks hang over this killing ... There must be an investigation and the
facts must get out. There must be accountability."

Another
funeral tent was put up at a family home a few hundred metres away.
Nehru Rayes, 47, was presiding over a funeral for his two sons Hisham,
25, a carpenter, and Alam, 18, who had been at school, and their cousin
Abdullah, 21, who ran an internet cafe. All three were killed in the
street, in the same air strike.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Save

Save

Rayes, a petrol station
attendant, learned from the Shifa hospital that all three were dead,
and that two other relatives had been injured. Representatives from the
rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas had come to his house
offering, as usual, to help with the costs of the funeral. He refused
them both. "We've become like the homeless, begging for electricity,
cooking gas and food," he said.

He spoke of the "corruption" of
the previous Fatah governments and then said of the Hamas leaders:
"They have everything they want: cooking gas, generators, and they can
move whenever they want. But the Palestinian people are suffering."

Like
many in Gaza yesterday, he spoke angrily of a desire for revenge
against Israel. "When they fight face to face with armed groups that's
OK, but when they attack civilians it's not acceptable," he said. "We
need to go back to a ceasefire, eventually, but it has to mean all the
crossings are open again and life returning to normal."

As he
spoke another relative, Morad Rayes, 46, interrupted: "The disagreement
between Hamas and Fatah gave the Israelis the reason to attack Gaza.
All the ordinary people are suffering in this bad economic situation.
It's just those belonging to the factions who benefit. We are facing a
tough enemy. We have to be united."

Inside the Shifa hospital
yesterday there were still relatives pouring through the corridors,
looking for the injured. Most of the wounded spoke bitterly of their
experience.

Mohammad Jahjouh, 21, lay on a hospital bed with
cuts to his legs and side. He was injured late on Saturday night when
an Israeli missile struck a mosque close to the hospital. "I thought I
was dead but then I started to move my hands and legs and I screamed
for help," he said. He was carried into the hospital. "It's unjust,
unfair and aggression. After this huge number of casualties it would be
a sign of weakness for us to ask for a ceasefire."

Gaza's
streets were largely empty yesterday, with most shops closed and queues
only at local bakers where people were stocking up with supplies.

Mowaffaq
Alami, 35, was close to the main security headquarters, the Suraya, in
Gaza on Saturday when it was attacked in the first round of Israeli air
strikes at around 11am. "People were walking through the streets just
like a normal day, children coming home from school. Suddenly, without
any warning, the bombing started. We didn't even see the jets in the
sky. That's why so many people were killed," he said. He said the first
round of attacks was over within a few minutes but left dozens dead.

Alami
lives in an apartment nearby and runs the Gaza office of One Voice, an
initiative that works to support a two-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "People are following the news, wondering
what's coming next," he said. "People are very worried there may be an
invasion. We used to plan our lives day by day. Now, it's hour by hour."

Share This Article

More in: