Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent reporting from Gaza.
The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to more than 500. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack to date, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack on Shejaiya as an "atrocious action." The fighting in Shejaiya killed 13 Israeli soldiers, bringing the Israeli military toll to 18 since the ground invasion began last week. Joining us from Gaza City, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous details the assault on Shejaiya and describes a new Israeli strike that killed 24 members of the Abu Jamaa family in Khan Younis. Kouddous documented their bodies collected together inside a local morgue.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 500. Over 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack so far, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to the death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. At the hospital morgue, a survivor said residents were bombed as they slept.
SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 1: [translated] The shells were between the houses. They killed children, women! There is no one left! It is a massacre! There is a massacre in Shejaiya! Go and see!
SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 2: [translated] We are residents sleeping at home. We are at home, civilians. We are not pro-Hamas or pro-Fatah or pro-Israel. We are poor people sleeping at home with children, women and old people. All the shells were randomly fired. At least each house got 10 shells. More than a thousand shells were fired at Shejaiya.
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israel’s attack on Shejaiya as a, quote, "atrocious action." The mass killings there have helped push the Palestinian death toll to over 500 since the assault on Gaza began two weeks ago. The dead include more than a hundred children. Over 3,100 people have been wounded and more than 81,000 displaced. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has warned it’s running out of food and medicine at the schools housing over 50,000 people. The number seeking refuge has nearly tripled since the Israeli ground invasion began Thursday. At least 130 Palestinians have been killed during that time.
AARON MATÉ: The ground invasion has also caused Israel’s first military casualties. Eighteen soldiers have died in Gaza since Thursday, including 13 fighting militants in Shejaiya. On Sunday, Palestinian militants with the Qassam Brigades announced the capture of an Israeli soldier, but Israel denies the claim. Two Israeli civilians have been killed from rocket fire from Gaza. On Sunday, as Israeli forces carried out their deadliest attacks so far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the assault on Gaza for as long as necessary.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Israel did not choose to enter this campaign. But from the moment it was forced on us, we will implement it until we achieve its result—restoring quiet for the Israeli people for an extended period while significantly damaging Hamas’s infrastructure and the rest of the terror organizations in Gaza. We are undeterred. We shall continue the operation as long as it is required.
AMY GOODMAN: In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the backing of foreign allies, saying he has, quote, "laid the diplomatic foundation that has given us international credit to operate," he said. The Obama administration has provided critical support, claiming Israel has acted in self-defense, blaming Hamas for the civilian toll. The White House now says it wants an immediate ceasefire, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been sent to join talks in Cairo.
For more, we go directly to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
Sharif, you’ve just come from Khan Younis. We’re getting the latest news from there. Can you tell us what you saw?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, I’ve come from the site of yet another massacre. Twenty-four members—at least 24 members of the same [Abu Jamaa] family were killed in their own home in an F-16 strike in Khan Younis. This happened last night at around Iftar, during the sunset call to prayer, the time that Muslims sit to break their fast. And an F-16 missile strike hit this family in their home as they were sitting down to eat. A grandmother, her three sons, their wives and all their children were killed. I went to the site where the house was. The house is completely gone. There’s only a crater left. The family says—the surviving family members said that they used two cranes and a bulldozer, working for 12 hours throughout the night, to retrieve all the bodies out.
At the hospital morgue, it was really a very difficult scene. One of the dead was less than one years old. She was still, you know, in her Pampers, dead. A father of one of the women killed said that the bodies were dispersed between two hospitals in Khan Younis—14 in one and 10 in the other. And the father had to go to two hospitals to pick up one of his daughters’ bodies, because half of her was in one hospital and half of her was in the other.
This is the kind of tragedies that we hear almost on a daily basis here in Gaza. Families are being wiped out in such massive numbers. There’s the al-Batsh family who lost 18 members in an airstrike last week. I went to near Beit Hanoun in the north the other day where a family—eight of them were killed while they were sitting, watching TV when a tank shell, an artillery shell, hit their home, so—while they were watching TV. So this is a very—this is a war on civilians. Civilians are paying the very highest of prices for this. And the killing doesn’t seem to stop.
AARON MATÉ: Sharif, the toll from Sunday, the highest figure I saw was 120, more than a third women and children. Of course, there was this mass killing in Shejaiya that we mentioned. You went to the hospital. You interviewed survivors. You interviewed victims. And you also went to the site of the attack. Can you tell us what you know about what happened in Shejaiya?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, from speaking to residents evacuating, it was very hard to get in. You know, this attack began, everyone says, at around sunset time, around Iftar time. And there was a barrage after barrage of tank shells that rained down on Shejaiya, which is one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. People said that there was no help. They called for ambulances. Paramedic workers said that they couldn’t get in because of the amount of the shelling, and so people waited for hours. They were left alone. And they finally decided to escape on foot. And when we got there in the early morning Sunday morning, there was just families streaming out, many of them carrying nothing, some of them barefoot, many, many families, young women and children, in complete panic trying to hail cars or trucks to get on or take off. Many of them just walked out. And they spoke of bodies strewn in the streets of Shejaiya. It was very hard to get in to confirm, although some reporters did and confirmed those reports, and there was some footage of it.
And in the hospital, it was just very difficult scenes, again, scenes of such indescribable anguish and loss. In the morgue in Shifa, there was two children—one was nine years old and her brother seven years old next to her. And there was what appeared to be relatives arguing about the name of the seven-year-old brother, whether it was Hamza or whether it was Khalil. They couldn’t tell because his head had been completely shorn off in this attack. So, these are the kinds of scenes of horror that have become a daily occurrence in Gaza, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the bloodshed.
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