By Richard Lightbown
In the words of Julie Webb-Pullman (reporting from Gaza) ‘civilians are once again being slaughtered by Israel in a blatant act of collective punishment for the Eilat crimes they did not even commit’. Indeed, as politicians and the military in Israel and Egypt seem unsure of how to react to the attacks of 18 August, they do at least seem confident in being able to turn the screws on the captive population of the Palestinian enclave. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak is reported saying “This is a delicate situation and there is a real risk of endangering the [1979 Egyptian-Israeli] peace treaty, which is a precious strategic asset for Israel”. Egypt remains rankled by the incident in which five members of its security forces were killed in two separate incidents by Israeli forces, while its popular opinion at least is also concerned about attacks in Gaza. One Israeli soldier was killed during the shootouts by ‘friendly fire’.
On 25 August Yossi Gurvitz recorded that there was still no evidence that militants in Gaza had been responsible for the terror attacks in Eilat, while Israeli and American security sources were privately expressing doubts whether the alleged perpetrators, the Popular Resistance Committees, were in any way involved. (There has been one unconfirmed report from AFP of a PRC admission of responsibility which had been disseminated by unreliable outlets such as the BBC.) The previous day Amira Hass reported that there was no mourning in Gaza for the militants killed in the attack and that there was a general sense in the territory that the perpetrators were not from Gaza. General opinion in Egypt within government and on the street is reported to believe that extremist groups in collaboration with Bedouin are responsible.
(23,000 criminals are said to have escaped from Egyptian jails during the revolution, only a third of whom have been recaptured. Many of the remainder are thought to be currently resident in Sinai and one of them was killed during the Eilat raid. Negotiations are underway between Bedouin and the government to restore security while improving social conditions in the region. DEBKAfile reports that the Egyptian authorities have demanded that Hamas hand over all the Al Qaida operatives and escaped Egyptian prisoners in Gaza failing which it will begin demolition of the smuggling tunnels. Hamas has refused to comply. It is not clear whether any serious action against the tunnels by Egyptian authorities could negatively impact its attempts to garner cooperation from the Bedouin, who have a large stake in the tunnel trade.)
The lack of evidence against Gaza has not deterred attacks by the Israeli Air Force on the Strip despite ceasefires negotiated by Egypt. A sports club and a kindergarten in Beit Lahyia refugee camp were demolished early on the morning of 25 August. The large sports club, which was crowded because of an event, was destroyed by a massive single bomb which also damaged neighbouring property. Two people were killed in the attack and 25 injured, including eleven children and seven women.
The Palestine Center for Human Rights has also recorded that between 19 and 24 August eight people (including two children and three women) were injured by home-made rockets fired from the Strip. One of the injuries is described as serious. Islamic Jihad is said to be responsible for around 90 per cent of the launches. (Injuries and damage on Gazan territory are not rare.) In Israel one man was killed at Ofakim and more than a twelve injured when a dozen Grad missiles hit Ofakim and Beersheba on 20 August. There have been no casualties in Israel since the first ceasefire was announced. The Hamas government has been trying to enforce the ceasefires, but Haaretz reported that four rockets have been fired since the second ceasefire came into effect on Friday 26 August.
On the same day Dr Ayman Al-Sahbani, the Director of Emergency Department at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza said that patient numbers had more than doubled in his hospital in 24 hours. The Israeli attacks are using new weapons [possibly DIME bombs] in some of these attacks. These weapons result in amputation and burns. The hospital has twenty children hurt by these weapons, and staff have never encountered such injuries before, even during Operation Cast Lead. The injuries include terrible burns, severed feet, legs and hands while the bodies are filled with small pieces of metal. Al Shifa does not have a laboratory to investigate the wounds so staff are unable to make a prognosis on whether the injuries will lead to cancers.
(DIME bombs are often fired from drones, and create a pressure wave on hitting the ground that causes huge injuries, especially to the lower body. The particles are tungsten based and experiments in the US found that they produced muscular cancers in mice.
Missiles are remotely fired from drones by operators sitting in front of a video screen in Israel. The preferred operators are female. Nose sensors on the craft give real time video pictures even in low light and at night and have synthetic radar to see through smoke, cloud or haze. The operator would almost certainly have seen Islam Quraiqe, who was killed by a missile on his second birthday while riding as a passenger on his father’s motorcycle. His father and uncle were also killed. )
Dr Al-Sahbani commented “[Children] arrive in pieces, some burned beyond recognition. We are doctors, we are humans, we just want to live our lives freely, we want to do our jobs properly, we want our children to grow up in freedom, like in other countries. In other countries children can play football, they can swim in pools, but here in Gaza when children play football, when they swim or play they get bombed, killed, and amputated. What kind of life is that for a child?”
The attacks have come at a time when the ministry of health is suffering from shortages in medical supplies and a spokesman warned the medical service faces collapse if the escalation continues. Supplies of common medical equipment are running out. The situation is critical: supplies of essentials such as sutures have almost run out so that catgut has to be used inside and out – and (only one size of which is available), only a few packs of sterile gauze are left along with a handful of sterile gloves. Being the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, Al Shifa has probably more supplies so the situation in other medical centres is likely to be even worse.
Another member of staff reported that in the previous five days 20 people had been killed by Israeli attacks and a further 55 injured. Thirteen of the casualties were women and 33 were children. He said that after one attack near his home people had been turned into pieces of meat.
In addition to these military attacks the collective punishment of Gaza from the siege continues. Almost all raw materials are currently prohibited from entering and cooking gas is in short supply because the dedicated crossing was closed leaving one remaining crossing open which can only handle 200 tons of cooking gas per day. Materials and spare parts for the ailing sewage system in Gaza have long been disrupted or denied entry, so that damage suffered by the treatment plant at al-Nussairat which was hit by an air strike on 19 August is likely to take a long time to repair.
There appear to have been no recorded comments from Western governments this week about this dire situation.
– Richard Lightbown is a researcher and writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.