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Gaza survivors' four days without water

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7819261.stm

A Palestinian man carries an injured child into al-Shifa hospital 8 January 2009
The ICRC has accused the Israeli army of failing to evacuate and care for the wounded
By Rushdie Aboualaf
BBC News, Gaza City


KEY STORIES
Protest in Paris Global Gaza peace protests




Jabaliya refugee camp Inside Gaza refugee camp




Iraqis 'capture leading militant'

"The minimum is to treat these [injured] people, to feed these people, give them water, and keep them in a safe place" Katarina Ritz ICRC's head of mission in Jerusalem


Map

"We spent days without food, without water - the wounded were bleeding for four days"
Wael Faris al-Shamouny

Sameh, aged three, and Ahmad, 18 months, cry all the time.

As she sits on the bed in al-Quds hospital in Gaza City, their mother Fatima al-Shamouny, 36, tries to comfort them. But as she tells their - and her own - story, she sobs too. The boys were found on Wednesday, with their dead father and unconscious mother nearby, four days after the emergency services said they began trying to reach the neighbourhood. They were among 30 people Palestinian Red Crescent workers said they evacuated from Zeitoun, a south-eastern suburb of Gaza City, on Wednesday. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the paramedics found "shocking" scenes of wounded people huddled together in houses among dead bodies, weak after having had no food or water for several days. In one home, the agency said, four small children were found sitting close to their dead mothers, "too weak to stand on their own". It is not clear if Sameh and Ahmad were in that particular house - it may be that the unconscious Fatima was initially thought to be dead - but she says she and her toddlers were among those who had a long wait for help.


Survivors' accounts

The ICRC has accused the Israeli military of failing to live up to its obligations under international law to facilitate the evacuation or to care for the wounded. The agency said it had been requesting safe passage for its ambulances to access the neighbourhood since 3 January, but only received permission to do so from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) four days later. The details of exactly what happened at the Shamouny family compound are still sketchy. Survivors have told the BBC that 26 of the extended family's 65 members died in Israeli military operations.  Their accounts of shelling, and then ground troops surrounding their homes, cannot be independently verified. Fatima, who was wounded in the chest, says two of her sons, her husband, her aunt, her uncle and her brother-in-law were all killed. "One of my sons crawled to our neighbour's house - he was injured - and he called some of the local radio stations to ask for help. But the help arrived late. Everybody had died," she said."On the third day, I passed out. I don't know what happened until I found myself here in the hospital," she said. Wael Faris al-Shamouny, 39, another member of the extended family, smoked and sipped black coffee as he sat on the floor in the hospital corridor. He says he lost five sons and his wife, and believes some of the dead may have survived if given medical treatment earlier. "We tried to help them, but we didn't have first aid things in our house. We spent days without food, without water - the wounded were bleeding for four days," he said. "The ambulances came and they saved who they saved. There are still pieces of my wife, my sons and my cousins' bodies in the house."

ICRC criticism

The ICRC said the wounded had to be transported about a kilometre on a hand-pulled donkey cart because large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood Katarina Ritz, the ICRC's head of mission in Jerusalem, said experienced Palestinian emergency workers wept at the scenes they were confronted with. She said Israeli troops were within about 100m of the houses in question, and that the ICRC believes the soldiers "must have been aware" of the presence of the wounded people, because of repeated requests from aid agencies for access. Under international law, she said, even if there are security concerns meaning the injured cannot be evacuated, "the minimum is to treat these people, to feed these people, give them water, and keep them in a safe place". The Israeli military said it was investigating the case. It said it is "engaged in a battle with the Hamas terrorist organisation that has deliberately used Palestinian civilians as human shields".And it stressed it works in "close co-operation with international aid organisations during the fighting, so that civilians can be provided with assistance".

'Difficult' co-operation

Earlier in the week, an ICRC spokeswoman told the BBC attempts to co-ordinate safe passage for ambulances were so slow that people were dying as they waited. Not all ambulance drivers in Gaza have been waiting for co-ordination with the Israeli military, and health officials in Gaza say 10 paramedics have been killed trying to rescue the wounded since the Israeli operation began. Israeli Defence Ministry Spokesman Peter Lerner said that co-ordinating the movements of ambulances has been "extremely difficult because of heavy gunfire". He said that even during the three-hour lull Israel declared to allow humanitarian operations, Hamas militants continued to shoot at Israeli forces. Outside the hospital, as Fatima Shamouny told her story, dozens of people gathered as Thursday's ICRC-led convoy of ambulances prepared to leave. They came with addresses where they believed injured people were trapped. One man's hands shook so much with fear that he had to ask for help writing the directions down. Finally, the convoy received clearance, and drove away. It was headed back to Zeitoun, where the ICRC said there were reports of more injured people stranded, and another area in northern Gaza, which ICRC workers had not even reached yet.

Additional reporting and writing by Heather Sharp.

Conflict hits Egyptian smugglers

A Palestinian boy inspects the damage to a United Nations school in Rafah


Israel warns Gaza of escalation


Israel has dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it is to escalate its military action.

There is speculation the leaflets may mean Israel will adopt new tactics in its battle with Palestinian militants. Israel says it has attacked dozens more Hamas targets, including what it says were rocket-launching sites, weapons stores and smuggling tunnels. Hamas militants fired more than 30 rockets across the border, injuring two Israelis in Ashkelon, Israel added.

Medical staff in Gaza say more than 820 Palestinians have died during the two-week offensive, including 235 children.  Israeli forces quoted by AFP news agency said at least 550 militants had been killed so far. Thirteen Israelis have died in the conflict, most of them soldiers. The Hamas leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshaal, condemned the Israeli offensive as a "holocaust", in a speech broadcast to millions across the Arab world via al-Jazeera TV. From his base in Syria, he said Israel had "finished off the last chance" for compromise and settlement, and that the war in Gaza had brought resistance to every Palestinian household. The conflict has sparked worldwide anti-war demonstrations, with tens of thousands of people joining rallies on Saturday in the US, Europe and the Middle East.

Rocket fire

In Gaza, leaflets and phone messages in Arabic urged residents to keep away from sites linked to Hamas, saying that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were not targeting Gazans but "Hamas and the terrorists only". One phone message said "the third stage" of the operation would start soon. It is two weeks since air strikes on Gaza began. The ground attacks started a week ago. Correspondents say phase three could see Israeli forces moving deeper into cities and refugee camps - involving new risks for Israeli soldiers and civilians in the Gaza Strip. 

In what appeared to be the bloodiest incident on Saturday, Palestinian medical staff said eight Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli fire in Jabaliya - a claim later denied by the Israeli army. Israel said it had launched more than 70 attacks on Hamas targets by air, land and sea, "hitting armed terror operatives in different incidents". An Israeli army spokesman said the commander of the Hamas' rocket-launching squads in Gaza City, Amir Mansi, was among those killed. There has been no word from Hamas, but militants continued to fire rockets into Israel. Israel is preventing international journalists from entering the coastal strip, and none of the figures could not be independently confirmed.

Strained diplomacy

On the ground, Israeli troops are reported to have moved closer to the edge of Gaza City, though they have yet to go into the most densely-populated areas. The continued violence comes as rival Palestinian groups converged on Cairo for discussions about an Egyptian ceasefire initiative, which is also sponsored by France.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged all sides to accept the proposal "without delay", after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. But Mr Abbas - who heads the secular Fatah movement, bitter rivals of Hamas - does not control Gaza, and analysts say he will have little impact on the course of the conflict. Hamas, which was elected in 2006 and took control of Gaza in June the following year, has sent delegates to Cairo for the second time in a week for separate talks. From Damascus, Khaled Meshaal said a breakthrough would come only if Israel immediately stopped the bombardment, lifted the blockade of Gaza, opened all crossings and withdrew its troops. Egypt negotiated the last ceasefire between Hamas and Israel but, correspondents say, this conflict has strained an already difficult relationship between Cairo and Hamas. Israel and Hamas have ignored a UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire that would lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops.  Israel said the continued rocket attacks showed the resolution was "unworkable", while Hamas insisted any truce must include the ending of Israel's economic blockade of Gaza. Aid agencies say Gaza's 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid. The UN says it has resumed aid deliveries in Gaza after suspending operations on Thursday when it said the driver of one of its lorries was killed by Israeli fire. The IDF said it was "100% certain" it did not attack the vehicle.

The violence erupted as a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas unravelled in November and comes one month before a parliamentary election in Israel.

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Israeli soldiers stand together at a military staging area before ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM E

Israeli soldiers stand together at a military staging area before moving towards the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009.

(Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Israeli soldiers stand atop a tank before moving towards the ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM E

Israeli soldiers stand atop a tank before moving towards the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009.(Baz Ratner/Reuters)

A member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) holds a poster ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ETA member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) holds a poster during a rally in Jakarta January 11, 2009 against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. (Supri/Reuters)


A Palestinian girl wounded during Israeli strikes is carried ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET
 
A Palestinian girl wounded during Israeli strikes is carried into Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Yasser Saymeh)

A column of Israeli tanks rolls along the Israel-Gaza border ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET
A column of Israeli tanks rolls along the Israel-Gaza border toward the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian town of Beit Hanun. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight.
(AFP/Patrick Baz)

Palestinians take part in a candle light vigil in solidarity ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET
Palestinians take part in a candle light vigil in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)






An Israeli soldier prepares a heavy machine gun atop a tank ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 4:02 PM ET

An Israeli soldier prepares a heavy machine gun atop a tank before moving towards the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

A column of Israeli tanks rolls along the Israel-Gaza border ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET

A column of Israeli tanks rolls along the Israel-Gaza border toward the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian town of Beit Hanun. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Patrick Baz)

Fire and smoke billow following an Israeli air strike in the ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ETFire and smoke billow following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah near the border with Egypt. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Said Khatib)

An Israeli artillery shell explodes over the Gaza Strip. Israel ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET
An Israeli artillery shell explodes over the Gaza Strip. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Patrick Baz)


A picture shows the feet of a killed Palestinian woman at a ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:24 PM ET

A picture shows the feet of a killed Palestinian woman at a hospital in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip. Doctor Muawiya Hassanein has no time for pleasantries these days. When a journalist calls, he barks out the latest number of the dead from Israel's war in Gaza and hangs up, getting back to his macabre count.

(AFP/Mohammed Abed)


An Israeli soldier jumps off a tank while waiting to advance ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ETAn Israeli soldier jumps off a tank while waiting to advance towards the border with the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

A Palestinian collects pages of the Koran from the ruins of ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ETA Palestinian collects pages of the Koran from the ruins of the al-Fadilah mosque destroyed after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009.(Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

An Israeli soldier sleeps atop a tank at a military staging ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ETAn Israeli soldier sleeps atop a tank at a military staging area outside the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009. (Baz Ratner - ISRAEL/Reuters)

An Israeli tank moves towards the border with the northern Gaza ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ETAn Israeli tank moves towards the border with the northern Gaza Strip January 11, 2009. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

A relative of a Palestinian killed during Israel's offensive ...
Reuters
Sun Jan 11, 3:46 PM ET
A relative of a Palestinian killed during Israel's offensive reacts at Shifa hospital in Gaza January 11, 2009. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)






A car burns following an Israeli air strike at the Rafah refugee ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:44 PM ET A car burns following an Israeli air strike at the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt. Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight. (AFP/Said Khatib)

A Palestinian man mourns after the death of relatives in front ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:31 PM ET
A Palestinian man mourns after the death of relatives in front of the morgue in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip is boosting the popularity of Hamas and other Islamic groups in the Arab world where people are dismayed by the passiveness of their regimes, analysts said on Sunday.
(AFP/Mahmud Hams)

A view shows a smoke trail from a rocket launched from the Gaza ...
AFP
Sun Jan 11, 3:28 PM ET
A view shows a smoke trail from a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel. When the sirens screamed their warning that rockets from Gaza were about to land in this Israeli desert town, Suleiman Abu Shareb could do little but herd his children into their home and pray. (AFP/Jack Guez)



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