Monday, March 03, 2008
Monday March 3 2008
First came an explosion in the street outside. Then the sound of a single rifle bullet slicing through the sky in a sharp crack and into the apartment directly above the home of Raed Abu Saif, the same apartment into which his young daughter Safa had just gone. It was Saturday afternoon, about 4pm.
Abu Saif hurried upstairs and found, lying on the floor of the front room, Safa, aged 12. There was a hole in her chest where the bullet had entered and a hole in her back where it had exited. It took her three hours to die.
Outside in the district of Zimmo Square, at the eastern edge of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, there was by now a heavy Israeli military presence, with tanks and troops and the sound of fighting raging. It was too dangerous for ambulances to reach the apartment and too dangerous for Abu Saif to head out on foot with his daughter. Instead, he fetched bandages, closed the wounds as best he could and held her in his arms as she bled.
"She said she was in pain, that she couldn't breathe," he said. "A few minutes before she died she told me to stop squeezing the wound, she couldn't breathe. I was just touching her hair. Then I saw her eyes roll up. I felt her heart. It was not beating."
From a piece of cloth the family fashioned a white flag, which Abu Saif's mother carried. His wife, Samar, went with them out into the street carrying Safa's corpse. An Israeli tank was parked a little way off and shone its lights at them. Twice the tank fired in the air over their heads, they said, until eventually they gave up and turned back for home to spend the night in the flat, the family and six other children and Safa.
Only yesterday morning did Abu Saif finally manage to cross safely out of the fighting and to a hospital morgue, where his daughter's body was prepared for the funeral. But Safa's mother and siblings were still in the house, surrounded by fighting and unable to join the mourners. The roofs of nearby buildings were still dotted with Israeli soldiers. It was from there the bullet that killed Safa was fired, the family believe.
By some estimates the Israeli military operations mounted over the past five days have left more than 100 Palestinians dead, among them many civilians. For Saturday alone the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights put the number of dead civilians at 49; Reuters news agency said Palestinian medical officials put it at about 60. Two Israeli soldiers and one civilian in the town of Sderot were killed.
Even measured on Gaza's often brutal scale of violence, that is a gruesome toll.
The first repercussion came yesterday when the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, suspended his so far fruitless peace negotiations with the Israelis, just ahead of the arrival tomorrow of the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who was hoping to encourage the talks.
Then in the West Bank there were riots in support of Gaza in Ramallah and Hebron - where Israeli troops shot dead a 14-year-old boy.
Israel's leaders adamantly defended their operations. "Nobody in the world would deny that striking at Hamas strengthens the chance for peace," Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said in Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that many of the Palestinian dead were indeed militants, some involved in launching rockets towards Israeli towns. Several Hamas fighters were visible in Jabalia in their black fatigues, some armed, one carrying what appeared to be a detonator.
But the number of civilians, including children , among the dead and injured was inescapable.
At one point yesterday a crowd of several hundred mourners carried through the streets the body of a young infant girl, Salsabeel Abu Jalhoum, who died aged 21 months. There were many others, like Mohammad Maboheh, a boy aged 16, who was shot dead on Saturday morning while standing on his balcony in the Abed Rabbo district of Jabalia, and whose father was in intensive care last night with a bullet wound to the chest. There was Mustafa Banna, 20, who lay heavily sedated in the Kamal Adwan hospital after both his legs were blown off by an Israeli shell which struck near his home in Beit Lahiya on Thursday afternoon. A Palestinian rocket had been fired a few minutes earlier by militants in a nearby field. "The rockets are no good. But what can I say? It is our fate," said the boy's uncle, Faher.
And there were Eyad and Jacqueline Abu Shabak, brother and sister aged 16 and 17, shot dead around midnight on Friday in the front room of their home in the Abed Rabbo district of Jabalia, only a few hundred metres from where Safa Abu Saif was to die later that day.
Eyad took a bullet to the chest and died later in hospital, his sister was hit with a bullet to the head and died where she fell. Their uncle Hatim, 32, sat outside the funeral tent yesterday and explained openly how much he too disagreed with the militants firing rockets. Then he said: "But what is our guilt?"