First Published: 2004-05-19

Israeli gunship open fire on Palestinian demo

Ten dead, 40 wounded as Israeli helicopter targets Rafah protest, many are children.


Middle East Online

By Mauricio Lima - RAFAH, Gaza Strip

Bloodiest so far

Ten Palestinians were killed and around 40 wounded Wednesday when an Israeli helicopter opened fired on a demonstration against the biggest ever army operation in the Gaza Strip, medical sources and witnesses said.

The attack happened in the Tal Al-Sultan neighbourhood of Rafah's refugee camp which has been the scene of the bloodiest clashes since Tuesday morning's start of Operation Rainbow, which has now left 34 Palestinians dead.

In the immediate aftermath of the missile strike, a steady flow of panicked civilians could be seen carrying the wounded to the nearest ambulances.

Several children with their heads covered in blood were being rushed away by their relatives, friends and strangers.

Four other Palestinians were also killed earlier Wednesday Tal Al-Sultan after being ordered by Israeli troops to surrender, Palestinian sources said.

One was a 13-year-old boy, while a man was killed by an Israeli tank shell while carrying a white flag, the sources said.

Israeli sources, however, insisted that the troops had not killed anyone who had voluntarily left their homes.

"We know of incidents of people coming out of their homes with white flags and then other Palestinians shooting them," said a military spokeswoman.

Witnesses said all males over the age of 16 were told by loudspeaker to come out of their homes with their hands in the air.

"Any armed person is a target for us and his house will be destroyed," they were warned.

Witnesses said that the army had also blown off the doors of shops and houses as soldiers continued to conduct sweeping searches of the neighbourhood.

The Palestinian leadership has accused the Israelis of conducting a "war of extermination" in Rafah while the UN Security Council is considering its response to events.

Israel came in for further international criticism Wednesday, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling the operation "unacceptable and wrong" while Moscow slammed what it called a "disproportionate use of force".

The Israeli military however insisted that its operations were justified in order to prevent weapons being smuggled to Palestinian militants from under the border with Egypt, claiming that a batch of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles were waiting on the Egyptian side to be delivered.

According to witnesses in Tal Al-Sultan, which has been virtually sealed off from the rest of Rafah, most of the phone lines are down, while the water and electricity networks have been destroyed.

"The Israeli army destroyed the generator for the sewage pumping station and waste is now spilling into the streets. The health situation is horrible," said resident Hassan Abu Yusef.

The Palestinian emergency services accused the Israeli army of blocking ambulances in northern Gaza from reaching Rafah.

"This is an absolute disaster. We sent ambulances to support Rafah but the Israleis are preventing them from reaching the place," said Mohammed Salama, who is head of emergencies at the Palestinian health ministry.

The Physicians for Human Rights-Israel group confirmed that ambulances were unable to move south of the town of Khan Yunis to provide assistance to medics working in Rafah.

Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo peace accords and the leader of Israel's left-wing Yahad party, said the operation was doomed to failure.

"There is no situation in the world in which the army will be able to resolve the conflict between us and the Palestinians, not from a military point of view and not from a political point of view," he said.

"It is completely unacceptable to continue baptising Gaza in blood because when Gaza is drenched in blood, it is also the blood of our children."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to evacuate the Gaza Strip and its 21 Jewish settlements but his plans were vetoed in a referendum by members of his right-wing Likud party earlier this month.

Government sources said Wednesday the premier would propose a phased pull-out from Gaza in a reworked plan he will shortly present to his cabinet.

By the end of the process the army would have withdrawn from the whole area except for the strip known as the Philadelphi road along the border with Egypt in the Rafah sector.

Meanwhile, violence also flared in the West Bank, with a militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades shot dead early Wednesday during fierce clashes in Nablus.

An 18-year-old Palestinian who was wounded during an Israeli incursion into northern Gaza last month also died of his wounds Wednesday.

The latest deaths brought the overall toll since the September 2000 start of the Palestinian intifada to 4,064, including 3,075 Palestinians and 918 Israelis.


Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle

Revolutionary Guards say Iranian missile program will continue

Erdogan calls on three major mayors to resign

ICC investigating several war crimes in Mali

Erdogan says may shut Iraqi border at any moment

Tunisian couple jailed for 'public indecency' over car kiss

Next round of Syria talks at end October

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

PSG's Khelaifi to be quizzed in Swiss World Cup probe

UN urges de-escalation in Iraq

Haley: Iran must be judged in totality of its aggressive behaviour

EU says Israeli settlements illegal under international law

Kurdish independence goes from dream to dust

Female commander more than just poster girl for Raqa victory

Saudi airline flies to Baghdad for first time in 27 years

Wanted Dead: France's approach to IS jihadists