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2014-07-29

"Nowhere to Go": Gaza Suffers One of Deadliest Days So Far as Israel Vows "Protracted" Assault

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Despite a U.N. Security Council call for a ceasefire, Israel has intensified its attack on Gaza and warned of a "protracted campaign." Palestinian officials say more than 110 people have been killed in the past 24 hours, with some saying Monday was the most intensive night of bombing so far. In this time period, Israel attacked more than 150 sites including Gaza’s only power station and a media center that houses the broadcasting headquarters of Hamas and a number of other Arab satellite news channels. Earlier on Monday, 10 people were killed, eight of which were children, and 40 others wounded by an explosion in a park near the beach in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. The child victims were said to be playing on a playground swing when they were hit. Israel denied carrying out the attack, but eyewitnesses said the explosion was caused by an Israeli airstrike. Another Israeli bombing reportedly hit an outpatient building at al-Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital. Meanwhile, 10 Israeli soldiers were killed on Monday. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai farmworker have died since the assault began. We go to Gaza City to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. "[Israel has] shelled hospitals, U.N. schools, they’ve bombed people in their homes," Kouddous says. "There’s literally nowhere for these people to run to."

Image Credit: Sharif Abdel Kouddous

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Despite a U.N. Security Council call for a ceasefire, Israel has intensified its attack on Gaza and warned of a "protracted campaign." Palestinian officials say more than 110 people have been killed in the past 24 hours, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 1,100 since the assault began 22 days ago. Most of the dead have been civilians. Monday was said to be the most intensive night of bombing so far. More than 180,000 Palestinians have been displaced over the past three weeks. That’s roughly 10 percent of the population of Gaza. Meanwhile, 10 Israeil soldiers were killed on Monday. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai farmworker have died in the past three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel bombed more than 150 sites last night, including Gaza’s only power station and a media center that houses the broadcasting headquarters of Hamas and a number of other Arab satellite news channels. Also Monday, 10 people, including eight children, were killed and 40 others wounded by an explosion in a park near the beach in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. The child victims were said to be playing on a playground swing when they were hit. Israel denied carrying out the attack, but eyewitnesses said the explosion was caused by an Israel airstrike. Another Israeli bombing reportedly hit an outpatient building at al-Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital.

We go directly to Gaza City to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who’s just written a piece for The Nation on the Al-Shati refugee camp strike.

Sharif, you recently came from there. Can you tell us what happened?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, yesterday at about 4:30 p.m., while there was children playing in the street in the Shati refugee camp, there was an airstrike, and several eyewitnesses debunked claims that Israel is saying that this was an errant militant rocket. And all the eyewitnesses say the same thing: There was a very loud explosion, and these children, that were playing on a swing and running between a grocery shop and buying sweets as they were celebrating a period of relative calm for the Muslim holiday of Eid, were blown apart. People talked of very bloody scenes of kids on the floor, arms missing, heads blasted in. Ten people were killed. Eight of them were children. According to the Health Ministry, 40 were injured. Over 30 of them were children. In Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, it was really tragic scenes, men openly weeping, women screaming, children being wheeled on stretchers. And this really blew apart this—what appeared to be a relative winding down of the violence.

And overnight, as you mentioned, it was some of the fiercest bombardment that Gaza has witnessed over this three-week war. If you just look behind me, you can see Gaza’s power plant that is on fire. It was hit in an airstrike last night. The fuel depot in the power plant was set alight. This power plant provides about 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity, and already most Gazans get about four hours or less of electricity a day. Electricity is very crucial also to the pump stations for water, and Gazans are suffering a very severe water crisis. This power station was hit also last week. The Israeli military claimed it was an errant strike by a shell, but it was certainly hit today. Dozens of places were hit last night: three mosques, four factories, as you mentioned, the house of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as several factories.

And we saw in the evening, as well, that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that this would be a protracted war. This came after Palestinian militants killed five Israeli soldiers after tunneling through on the other side of the border. So, we’re already on day 22 of this assault. It appears it’s going to be longer than the 2008-2009 brutal Israeli attack on Gaza. And we heard the prime minister, Netanyahu, say there’s no war more just than this. And this came after this brutal attack on the Shati refugee camp that, again, left children being the primary victims of this war.

One of the people that was killed in that attack, one of the two adults, was a 63-year-old named Sobhi al-Helw. He had been displaced from Shejaiya, the neighborhood in East Gaza City, and he had left his home after it was bombed by the Israeli military, killing his mother, 78 years old. And he had fled to this neighborhood in West Gaza to avoid the Israeli bombing. He brought with him 13 members of his family. And despite that, he died yesterday in this attack. So it’s not just that civilians are being killed by these Israeli bombs, but it’s civilians who are trying to flee these Israeli bombs are also dying.

And the Israeli military last night sent out recorded messages to residents in various neighborhoods—eastern Jabaliya, Beit Lahia, Zeitoun—telling them to evacuate their homes. This is after already 44 percent of the Gaza Strip has been declared a military buffer zone. There is literally nowhere for people to go. There’s over 200,000 displaced, by the U.N.'s own count. If you go to homes in Gaza, you'll find people, dozens of people, sitting in apartments. They’re in unfinished schools. UNRWA is hosting over 170,000 people. There’s literally nowhere for people to go, and it seems there’s nowhere safe for Gazans to be.

AARON MATÉ: Sharif, as we said, the al-Shifa Hospital was among the targets on Monday. You’ve been to the hospitals almost every day. What’s the scene like inside?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the Shifa Hospital has really transformed into a makeshift refugee camp. It’s seen by many as the safest place in Gaza. It’s the biggest hospital, and it’s a place of refuge. It’s a place where the dead and wounded are sent, but also a place for people who have been—are evacuating their homes. There’s many, many people, from especially Shejaiya, who are sleeping there day and night, in the grassy area and on the sidewalk in Shifa Hospital.

And there was an attack yesterday on an adjoining outpatient clinic where two people were injured and that blew out part of a wall. And some think it was a warning by the Israeli military. This is a place where you can go and speak to Hamas spokespeople. They’re often there where you can interview them. But the Israeli military claims that, again, it was an errant Palestinian rocket that hit that site.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, is there any way for people to leave, for example, journalists to leave Gaza?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, the Erez border crossing—that’s the crossing in Israel out of Gaza—was opened today. Several journalists did leave, and several journalists come in. Some days it is closed. But for Palestinians, there is no way out. This isn’t a war like others, where—you know, in Iraq or other places, where refugees can flee across a border to a place of relative safety. Here, they can’t. The borders are controlled mostly by Israel and also by Egypt, and those borders are sealed to Palestinians. And so there’s nowhere for them to go. The Israeli military is pushing in from its border, and as I said, it’s created a three-kilometer military buffer zone, and it’s pushing people into the center and the west of Gaza. And as we’ve seen, they’ve shelled hospitals, they’ve shelled U.N. schools, they’ve bombed people in their homes. So there’s literally nowhere for people to run to.

AARON MATÉ: Sharif, on Monday, a former Israeli soldier, who’s now a peace activist with the group Breaking the Silence, revealed that Israeli snipers have been shooting dead Palestinians in Gaza as an act of revenge for the killing of their fellow soldiers. In a post on Facebook, Eran Efrati cited reports he’s received from soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Efrati refers specifically to a shooting that was caught on video of a Palestinian man, Salem Shammaly, shot dead as he looked for family members in Shejaiya. Efrati writes, quote, "I can report that the official command handed down to the soldiers in Shujaiyya was to capture Palestinian homes as outposts. From these posts, the soldiers drew an imaginary red line, and amongst themselves decided to shoot to death anyone who crosses it. ... This was the official reasoning inside the units. I was told that the unofficial reason was to enable the soldiers to take out their frustrations and pain at losing their fellow soldiers out on the Palestinian refugees in the neighborhood." Sharif, have you heard any accounts of these sniper attacks on Palestinians in Shejaiya, where of course 72 people were killed in one of the worst attacks so far?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, residents who were fleeing the area did speak of snipers, and of course there is that video where activists with the International Solidarity Movement were accompanying a young Palestinian man as he was looking for his family. It’s all caught on tape. He’s shot. He falls to the ground. And then he’s shot another time, and then another bullet rings out which misses him. And he died in that attack. I spoke with one of the ISM activists, and she described in great detail about the sniper attack. The family of that young Palestinian man was not in Shejaiya, it turned out. They had fled. And they found out about his death by watching the video online. And that is how they found out that he had died looking for them. So, it’s these scenes of tragedy that we always hear. And the targeting of civilians has occurred since the beginning of this war. They have paid the highest price. By the U.N.’s count, over 77 percent of the dead are civilian, and over 220 children have died.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I want to thank you for being with us. Be safe. When we come back, we’ll be joined by another journalist, by Mohammed Omer. It may take a minute for them to make the transition at the standup point in Gaza City, because Sharif has to take off his bulletproof vest, and Mohammed Omer must put it on. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.

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