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The Irish Times

Children Heavily Represented Among 917 Dead, Say Officials

Michael Jansen

An explosion is seen after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip January 13, 2009. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Health officials in Gaza said yesterday that the Palestinian death toll since Israel began its offensive against the Strip on December 27th had reached 917 and the number of wounded 4,100.

Officials expect the number of casualties to rise steeply as Israeli armour and troops move into heavily populated urban areas in the north and Israeli planes intensify their bombardment of the south.

Bassem Naeem, health minister in the Hamas government, said that about 380 of the fatalities were women and children. Israeli sources said 300 militants had been killed, a figure which may include the 187 civilian policemen who died in the initial bombardment. This means, analysts argue, that two-thirds of the fatalities are civilians. Children, who officials say are heavily represented among the casualties, comprise half of Gaza's population.

In the north, Muhammad Shriteh, an ambulance driver for the Red Crescent Society, speaking on the phone from Gaza city, said rescue teams were unable to enter Zeitoun on the border with Israel because of heavy bombing and the Israeli advance. "It is very bad in Zeitoun area. All the families are leaving. It is a ghost town. We cannot collect bodies or the injured."

In the south, Jenny Linnel, a peace activist from Devon in England who is in Rafah, reported by phone that entire "neighbourhoods parallel to the border with Egypt" are being bombarded and tunnels used to smuggle essential goods and weapons into Gaza are being targeted.

"All residents have been ordered to leave. Homes are being destroyed or severely damaged. There has been a mass evacuation. Families go to stay with relatives who live elsewhere." Linnel has been serving as a volunteer with the Red Crescent.

UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Christopher Gunness said the agency estimates that the number of people who have fled Rafah is 20,000.

He said UNRWA had a convoy of more than 50 lorries carrying food, medical and non-food aid entering Gaza through Israel's Karem Shalom crossing.

UNRWA is dispersing aid to distribution centres and 31 shelters housing 25,000 people.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to stop firing white phosphorus shells into heavily populated areas of Gaza. "White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin," said Marc Garlasco, the organisation's military analyst. Doctors in Gaza say one person has died and a number have suffered injuries consistent with white phosphorus burns.

Shriteh confirmed this report: "My partner and I collected from near al-Quds hospital one shahid [martyr or fatality] and seven injured people who had burns all over their bodies."

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that "strongly condemned the ongoing Israeli military operations . . . which have resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure".

The resolution was adopted by 33 votes with 13 abstentions, including European countries, and one against, Canada.

A boat owned by the Free Gaza Movement,carrying doctors, journalists and medicine, which set out for Gaza from Cyprus, has had to turn back for mechanical reasons. An Iranian cargo ship carrying medical supplies is set to enter Israel's maritime exclusion zone today.


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