Raji Sourani, award-winning human rights lawyer. He is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He is on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.
Mohammed Omer, award-winning Palestinian journalist reporting in Gaza City. He is originally from Rafah and has been closely following today’s developments.
The ceasefire in Gaza has collapsed just hours after it began, with more than 40 Palestinians killed and the capture of an Israeli soldier. Israeli tanks reportedly opened fire in the southern Rafah area just hours after the 72-hour ceasefire began. Israel is claiming Hamas first broke the ceasefire by firing rockets from southern Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has launched a major effort to locate a soldier they say was captured near Rafah. The Israeli military says the soldier was captured when Israeli forces attempting to destroy a tunnel were attacked by militants, including a suicide bomber. Talks had been scheduled for this weekend in Cairo but are now in limbo. We are joined from Gaza by two guests: Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Mohammed Omer, an award-winning Palestinian journalist and Rafah resident.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: Over 40 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza city of Rafah following the collapse of a U.S.- and U.N.-backed ceasefire. Israeli tanks reportedly opened fire on Rafah just hours after the 72-hour ceasefire began. Israel is claiming Hamas first broke the truce by firing rockets from southern Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has launched a major effort to locate a soldier captured near Rafah. The IDF says the soldier was captured when Israeli forces trying to destroy a tunnel were attacked by militants, including a suicide bomber. A senior Hamas leader says the soldier was captured before the ceasefire began. Talks had been scheduled to be held this weekend in Cairo. Even before today’s outbreak of violence, the U.S. and Israel said they would refuse to negotiate directly with Hamas.
AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian death toll has now reached at least 1,460, mostly civilian, surpassing the number of Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead nearly six years ago. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed, in addition to three civilians.
We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Raji Sourani. He’s the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, serves on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights, a past winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Raji. Can you talk about this latest news? The ceasefire, that was supposed to be 72 hours, and an Israeli soldier has been captured. Forty, at least, we understand, Palestinians have been killed in Rafah.
RAJI SOURANI: Thank you, Amy. Yes, situation is back again to square number one in Gaza. All over Gaza borders and inside the Gaza borders, there is firing by rockets, aeroplanes, gunboats, artillery tanks, and business as usual as for the last 24 days, the Israelis launching their offensive all over the place. They get deeper in many other places. You can hear and feel that all over Gaza Strip, especially in the east and northern part of it, especially focused on the Rafah area. Except, I mean, like one hour, one half-hour, people were able to move, with some journalists, I mean, to some areas in the eastern area of Khan Younis, Shejaiya, but otherwise, I mean, nobody was able to go anywhere.
In Shejaiya, after the ceasefire began at 8:00, many, many corpse has been found and discovered in the streets of Shejaiya, Abasan and in Zanaa area, many executions suspected to be happened, I mean, by the Israeli army, for people, including handicapped people, girls and boys—the destruction massive, massive. It’s a crazy picture, very surrealistic. We never, ever realized something as such can happen in such a dense populated area in Gaza, filled, filled with civilians.
So, practically no ceasefire. The offensive continues, the brutality, the war crimes happening against civilians. Israel says this was in retaliation of kidnapping an Israeli soldier by resistance, but actually, this had happened, according to the resistance sources, who declared that early in the morning from some mosques in Rafah 6:30, so resistance say this had happened before the ceasefire. That’s why Israel tried to lie, and they feel they lost a lot by kidnapping this soldier, high-ranking soldier, as the sources of resistance say, and that’s why they just got mad, and they began to bombard all over the place again.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji, we have Mohammed Omer on the phone with us, who’s also in Gaza, the award-winning Palestinian journalist. He is from Gaza, and he’s been closely following the developments there, his family there. Mohammed, what do you understand took place in Gaza—in Rafah, rather?
MOHAMMED OMER: Well, right now in Rafah, Amy, the situation is still deteriorating. There are at least about 90 people who were killed. The ambulance crew are unable to get into the area of Hay al-Salam and Hay al-Jneina, when we know about these areas. They are about three to four kilometers inside Rafah. And the people are trying to evacuate their homes, but unfortunately they are not allowed because of the constant bombings and the artillery shelling. The tank shells have reached many areas in this area. It’s like shooting a barrel, basically, in a very closed and densely populated area in Rafah. Remember that Hay al-Salam is on the top of a hill, and you could see the rest of Rafah. You could see, basically, 170,000 inhabitants just in front of you, and you can just bomb them any moment you want. And that’s what’s happening.
Most of the colleagues and journalists at Abu Youssef al-Najjar, they evacuated the hospital, because the hospital has received a warning that it’s going to be bombed. So, Abu Youssef al-Najjar is the only hospital in the southern part of the Gaza Strip in Rafah. And now there is another [inaudible] hospital, which is supposed to be for giving birth, and it’s the only one which is receiving people and victims. And it’s still ill-equipped with all necessary equipment. The situation in Rafah, as well, there is a lack of communication. Even the colleagues and journalists who are in Rafah, they could not make phone calls with one another because the network is down and the electricity has been down in the last two to three hours.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the significance of this area, of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.
MOHAMMED OMER: This area is very close to its border with Egypt, and there is the Rafah crossing. And I’m just getting some new appeals from 71 internationals who are stuck right now. They are on the Egyptian gate. The Egyptians are not allowing them into the Egyptian side. And the Palestinian side, they have evacuated the Rafah crossing. The Rafah crossing is under constant bombing. Among them, there are Germans, there are Norwegians, there are Americans, and there are Egyptians of Palestinian origin. They are trying to escape the Gaza Strip, but they cannot. The Egyptian authorities are saying that they are not going to allow them to get outside of the Gaza Strip until there is an approval from Cairo. A number of embassies are trying to call for the Egyptian government to allow their nationals to escape the constant bombing which they are subjected under.
Rafah crossing, of course, is one of the main areas, well known as the only entrance and exit for passengers traveling. It has been mostly closed in the last few years, particularly under the administration of Sisi and Mubarak, of course. And also there is the Kerem Shalom, is about two to three kilometers away from Rafah crossing, which is the only commercial crossing, which is supposed to get commercial activities into the Gaza Strip.
Now, the timing of this is important. This happened just before the ceasefire kicks in. And that’s very important to keep note of that, because it happened just at 6:30, this operation was ended, even the capturing of soldier by the resistance, and namely Hamas here, the Qassam Brigades. So, I would say that Israel is trying to sabotage all the international efforts for a ceasefire in the next 72 hours, and that is the attempt here. I would expect the situation even to deteriorate more, because we are seeing right now the Israeli artillery shelling just getting closer and closer, and there are also a number of soldiers who are taking positions in different buildings and trying to use snipers to shoot at people.
AARON MATÉ: Mohammed, there were reports of bodies lying in the streets of Rafah. Have ambulances been able to reach the wounded?
MOHAMMED OMER: No, ambulances, they have not been able to reach the wounded, because the Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital has been targeted and ambulance crew has been targeted. And areas that are under constant attack is right now actually behind the Israeli bulldozers and tanks, which means these areas is off-limits. You cannot get into these areas at all, and there is no possibility for you, as an ambulance crew, to get inside this area. So there are tens of people who are thrown in the streets bleeding, some of them who are still alive, others who are dead, torn into small pieces of heads and chests and legs of human beings. And remember that those people who were wounded, just remember, they are Bedouin families who were going back to their homes in the early morning hours when they heard that the ceasefire is going to start, so they wanted to go and check on their homes, but then they were caught in fire by the Israeli military on the border with the Gaza Strip.
Ambulance crew are still appealing to the International Red Cross, and the same thing also the 71 internationals who are inside the Rafah crossing. They are appealing to the International Red Cross to evacuate them, either to get them to the Egyptian side or to the Palestinian side safely. But even the Red Cross is unable to do this, to do their job. And there is growing anger among the population on Red Cross, because they believe the Red Cross is unable to supply people with much help and to bring people in and out. Whenever we contact the Red Cross, the message we get is that the Israelis have refused our requests for coordination, even for ambulance crew.
Just to get outside Rafah a little bit and talk about over 25 bodies that were found in Khuza’a. And Khuza’a is to the east of Khan Younis. That was one of the most horrifying scenes, to see human bodies eaten by animals—human bodies eaten by animals just in Khan Younis. And this is one of the worst humiliation that can happen for a dead body, that human bodies are eaten by animals inside Khuza’a, and they are just taken outside to the Gaza European Hospital and to Nasser Hospital. In the southern part of the Gaza Strip, all these hospitals are suffering. The situation is quite overwhelming [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, we want to thank you for being with us, speaking to us from Gaza City, especially reporting on Rafah, where your family is from.
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