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November 22 2012 5 22 /11 /November /2012 04:28

Palestinians count their dead after one of the worst days of the war

Gaza City
Destroyed government offices in Gaza City. Many had moved to the city after Israeli leaflets warned of strikes on border areas. Photograph: APAimages/Rex Features

The doctors, the ambulance drivers, the human rights monitors all said it was one of the worst days. But no one could be sure just how bad until the reports from the morgues, or of funerals held without fanfare, or of the recovery of another body from under the rubble, dribbled in.

 

By Wednesday afternoon, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) was reporting 31 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault over the previous 24 hours – 21 of them civilians – in perhaps the worst bloodletting yet of the military campaign against Gaza.

 

And even as a ceasefire was announced on Wednesday evening, the bombs and missiles were still falling and the death toll rising with a strike in the south of the enclave that killed two men on motorcycles, and bodies were still being pulled from a bombed Gaza City government complex.

 

The latest victims included Ibrahim Mahmoud Nasser Abu Nasser, 80, and his 14-year-old grandson, Ameera, who were cropping olive trees in Abassan village to the east of Khan Yunis refugee camp when a missile shot from the sky killed them both.

 

There were the two 16-year-olds – Mahmoud Khalil al-Arja and Ibrahim Ahmed Hamad – who died in an air strike near the southern Gaza border. Ambulance men could not reach their bodies for hours because of the continuing air assault.

Adding to the tally was 14-year-old Ahmed Awadh Abu Olayan, who died of wounds sustained on the first day of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

 

The Palestinian health ministry puts the total death toll at more than 150, although officials concede they may not know about all of those killed. The PCHR says at least 90 of those are civilians, including about 30 children.

 

But as the reports of the killings emerged, there was something more.

 

The places people died told that the assault by land, sea and air – delivered from tanks, huge naval guns, attack helicopters and fighter jets – had shifted more firmly towards the tightly packed neighbourhoods of Gaza City and small towns and refugee camps.

 

Those were the very places thousands of Palestinians had fled to after the Israeli military dropped leaflets warning people to get out of border areas to the north and east. In Khan Yunis refugee camp in the south, residents received phone calls with a similar warning to leave or risk harm from the missiles.

 

The UN Palestinian refugee agency said it was sheltering thousands of people in 13 schools it runs. They arrived by donkey carts and pick-up trucks piled with mattresses.

 

Dozens of strikes on Gaza City killed nine civilians, including two children. A plane hit two cars with a missile each. Five people died. The PCHR said they were all civilians.

 

Another missile struck a garden, killing a man and wounding his eight-year-old grandchild.

 

About 15 minutes later, a plane fired a missile into a busy road, Baghdad Street. Four died, including an 18-year-old woman. Again, all were believed to be civilians.

 

Then there were the targets. The Israeli army said: "The sites that were targeted were positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of several months." But many seemed to have little military value. A football stadium blown to bits. The house of a bank director flattened. Media offices wrecked.

 

A cluster of missiles destroyed a sprawling warren of offices built by the Israelis themselves to administer the occupation when the Gaza Strip was still under military control. Until it was brought down, the building was used to issue identification cards, passports and the kind of official papers people need to get through life.

 

The Israeli military also wrecked two bridges in the centre of the Gaza Strip, making it that much more difficult to move around.

 

Destruction comes from all directions. The blasts from the warships off the Gaza coast are distinct. Naval guns pump out up to 10 shells in rapid succession, each launch marked by a deep thud very different from the crack of a missile from an Apache helicopter or F16.

 

When the noise of the firing and explosions dies down, the constant buzz of the Israeli drones swirling not so far overhead, watching and picking out targets, returns until once again drowned out by the ambulance sirens.

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