Israel has entered the 17th day of its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian death toll has reached at least 732. Palestinian militants are now claiming to have killed eight more Israeli soldiers, which would bring the Israeli military toll to 40. Three civilians have died inside Israel. We speak with independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous just after he visited the southern town of Khan Younis, which has faced heavy shelling since Tuesday. Israeli forces there killed an estimated 73 people in the last two days. Kouddous says residents tried to evacuate starting Tuesday, but "found Israeli tanks blocking the main streets. One group said the Israeli tanks started firing on them. They fled back to their homes. They had to leave the wounded behind." Many eventually walked out carrying white flags. Kouddous also spoke to a doctor who tried to assist the wounded in the area, but says his ambulance was fired on by the Israeli military four times.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Israel continues to bombard civilians in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian death toll has reached at least 732. The Israeli death toll stands at 32 soldiers and three civilians. Palestinian militants are now claiming to have killed eight Israeli soldiers today, which would bring the Israeli military toll to 40. On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed an estimated 73 people in the southern town of Khan Younis. The attacks come after Israel rejected a U.N. request for a brief humanitarian pause. The United Nations says at least 75 percent of the dead are civilians, including an estimated 168 children. In the last two days, children have been killed at a rate of one per hour.
As the bombing of Gaza continues, the United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to investigate Israel for potential war crimes. The vote was 29 to one, with 17 abstentions. The U.S. cast the lone "no" vote. Meanwhile, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said Israel may have committed war crimes in its attacks on civilians in Gaza. She also renewed calls for Israel to lift the seven-year Gaza blockade. This comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel Wednesday after holding talks on a ceasefire.
For more, we go to Gaza, where we’re joined by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent, writer for The Nation magazine.
Sharif, can you tell us the latest?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, I’m just coming from the south of Gaza, from Khan Younis, where people are talking of a very brutal assault on southeastern Khan Younis, particularly in the area of Khuza’a. They say this was worse than Shejaiya, the Gaza City eastern town that was attacked on Sunday in the bloodiest day of the conflict. People say the attacks began Tuesday night, the Israeli military moving in, firing very heavily with shelling—shelling, F-16s and drone attacks.
I spoke to multiple residents who said they tried to get out beginning yesterday morning. They walked out; they found Israeli tanks blocking the main streets. One group said that the Israeli tanks started firing on them. They fled back to their homes. They had to leave the wounded behind. They spent a harrowing 24 hours trying to go from house to house. They said each house they went to was shelled. And they finally ended up walking out, holding white flags and their hands above their heads, only Wednesday morning.
They said that there were the dead on the streets, that they were calling the hospitals and the Red Cross and ambulances all night, but they couldn’t get in. I spoke to a doctor who was in an ambulance. He went four times from his hospital, which is right next to the area, to try and get in. He said that he was fired upon four times on the—the ambulance was upon four times by the Israeli military. No one can get into the area. And they’re saying they’re getting calls from people on the inside who are still trapped, and the wounded can’t get out. Hospitals are overcrowded. The Nasser Hospital, the biggest hospital in southern Gaza, was completely crowded today. They have no more room for any more people. They’re trying to send people to different parts. And doctors said that this was one of the worst nights that they’ve ever seen.
So, this is a continued, brutal offensive, ground offensive by the Israeli military. They are now at least a couple of kilometers or three kilometers into Gaza in that southern area near Khan Younis.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, what about the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, coming to Israel and to meet with the Palestinian Authority?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I think it’s significant that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed Hamas’s calls for a conditional ceasefire with the lifting of the siege and the freeing of prisoners who were re-arrested in the West Bank. These were prisoners that were freed in the Gilad Shalit deal and were re-arrested without charge. So, Kerry, you know, I think there’s a lot of diplomatic efforts to seek some kind of truce or some kind of humanitarian ceasefire, because this is really becoming a real humanitarian crisis. Every day we wake up to find more people have been killed. There’s very fierce attacks at night. And Israel is blocking people from escaping from their homes, firing on them as they’re trying to leave. Ambulances and medical workers are not allowed to go in even to rescue the wounded, to clear the dead bodies. There are still dead bodies in Shejaiya from the attack on Sunday. And so, there needs to be some kind of effort, some kind of reconciliation, some kind of stop to this kind of bloodshed.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, on Wednesday, a statement was put out of Gaza called "No Ceasefire Without Justice." It was academics, public figures, activists saying that we are "witnessing the intended genocide of 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, we call for a ceasefire with Israel only if conditioned on an end to the blockade and the restoration of basic freedoms that have been denied to the people for more than seven years." Do you know about the group that put this out, and can you explain the conditions that they’re talking about?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the conditions are humanitarian requests that are based mostly on lifting the blockade and granting a dignified life to the people of Gaza. Any truce here, any ceasefire that’s not predicated on a political solution that includes a lifting of the siege is doomed to fail, to last only a few years. And we’ve seen that happen over the last several years. We saw the assault in 2007 and 2008, we saw 2012, and now there’s 2014. And this will only continue unless the siege and the basic rights of Palestinians living in Gaza are recognized.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, at this point, do you see an end to the fighting?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, it’s hard to say. Every day, the violence seems to escalate. We think that it can’t get worse, and then it does. We see what happened in Shejaiya. We thought that that was the worst of it, and now I come and hear people saying that it’s worse in Khuza’a in Khan Younis. The Israeli military continues to push in. It’s become incredibly bloody since they launched their ground invasion. The words coming out of the Israeli government are only ones of bluster and increasing their offensive. So, it doesn’t, frankly, look very good. And it’s hard to tell how long people in Gaza can hold out. They don’t really—there’s nowhere to run, as we’ve talked about. Shelters have been attacked. They’re just being pushed in towards the coast from all areas. There’s people in hospitals. There’s people in unfinished buildings. There’s people in schools. You know, there’s well over 150,000 have been displaced. And there’s hardly any electricity, hardly any water. And this—I can hear the booming now starting again, and so the onslaught continues.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sharif, be safe. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent, writes for The Nation magazine. We’ll link to his pieces at TheNation.com at democracynow.org. When we come back, two Israeli reservists, one a former Air Force captain, one an Israeli living in the United States. They are refuseniks. They are resisters. They’ll talk about why. Stay with us.