Donatella Rovera, a visiting representative of Amnesty International, said she was surprised at the lack of international response to the Israeli
offensive, which she said was in some respects more serious than the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in 2002. "In terms of the number of civilian deaths, it's worse than Jenin," Ms Rovera said. "But we haven't seen the kind of international response this situation merits."
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Hundreds flee Gaza refugee camp as Israeli attack leads to shortages of food
By HARVEY MORRIS
Gaza: Hundreds of people had fled their homes in a south-eastern section of
Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp and thousands more were stranded there by Israeli
tanks, residents said yesterday.
Jabalya is the focus of a week-long operation by the Israeli army to halt the
firing of rockets into Israel. Residents of the Block-4 district of the camp
said those still stranded by the fighting were running out of food and other
They reckoned that between 2,000 and 3,000 of the estimated 7,000 residents
had already fled, many of them soon after an Israeli tank shell killed nine
people last week. Most were staying with relatives in safer areas of Jabalya or
in nearby Gaza City.
Mohamed Harbi Shalka, 26, who fled his home on the front line with his wife
and child under Israeli fire on Thursday, said his 50-year-old parents had
remained, his mother too sick to move.
"She has lung disease and is running out of Ventolin and two other drugs she
needs," Mr Shalka said.
He said the Palestinian Red Crescent and other humanitarian agencies had told
him they were unable to reach the area overlooked by Israeli tanks. Other
residents confirmed his account.
Mr Shalka said his parents had told him by telephone that all their windows
had been destroyed by Israeli fire and that bullets had also shattered a
roof-top reservoir that was their only water supply.
The tanks last week seized high ground above Block-4, the site of an
abandoned Palestinian police post. The army aims to root out militants, mainly members
of Hamas, who have used areas of the Jabalya camp to direct Qassam rocket
fire at southern Israel.
The government of Ariel Sharon launched a full-scale assault on northern Gaza
after two children were killed by one of the home-made Qassams in the
southern Israeli town of Sderot a week ago.
Five Palestinians were killed in Gaza and the West Bank yesterday, one a
13-year-old girl shot dead in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.
The army said soldiers suspected the girl was carrying explosives towards an
After last week's shelling of Jabalya, Hamas militants told residents to
abandon their front-line homes for their own safety. "We and our neighbours told
the fighters that firing the Qassams was a mistake but they didn't seem to
care," Mr Shalka said.
Donatella Rovera, a visiting representative of Amnesty International, said
she was surprised at the lack of international response to the Israeli
offensive, which she said was in some respects more serious than the Israeli assault on
the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in 2002.
"In terms of the number of civilian deaths, it's worse than Jenin," Ms Rovera
said. "But we haven't seen the kind of international response this situation
merits." She said some areas were completely inaccessible to medical and other
humanitarian aid. Palestinian officials accused Mr Sharon of exploiting the
fact that world attention was focused on the forthcoming US elections and on a
worsening situation in Iraq to launch the offensive.
"The motive for this aggression is not just the Qassams," said Jamal Zakout,
a leading moderate politician who opposes the use of the rockets.
"It is part of Sharon's plan to destroy the last vestiges of the peace
He said, however, that Palestinian militants had fallen into a serious
strategic error by launching their Qassam offensive and inviting Israeli retaliation
when the world's attention was focused elsewhere.
Some Palestinians suggested Hamas had turned to the use of Qassams because of
the difficulties of mounting bomb attacks inside Israel from the West Bank in
retaliation for attacks on its leadership and the near impossibility of doing
so from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials have said no country would put up with having rockets fired
into its territory without mounting an effective response. The Israeli army
is relying on a heavy armoured presence, backed by aircraft and high-tech
surveillance, to consolidate its hold on the northern Gaza Strip. For the most
part, soldiers are not leaving their armoured vehicles. So far, one soldier has
been killed and a number wounded.
In the narrow alleys of the Jabalya camp, militants are deploying mines and
firing home-made anti-tank weapons. They are also using the smoke from burning
tyres and sheets of coloured plastic to hide their positions from overhead
drones and spotter blimps.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, claimed the Israeli offensive had failed
because militants were still able to deploy Qassams around Jabalya.
"We will use these weapons for our defence for as long as we are occupied and
the world is silent," he said. "Whenever the Israeli aggression stops, the
Qassams will stop."