Palestine: Thousands of Houses Destroyed by Israeli Occupation Forces

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) continued its military campaign against the Gaza Strip for the 16th day. The IOF also continue to act in violation of the rules of international law relevant to conflict and belligerent occupation, motivated by the failure of the international community to stand for the principles and rules itself had set. In particular, there is much evidence indicating the perpetration of grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War. With advanced technology for surveillance and sophisticated weapons, the IOF bears the responsibility to distinguish between civilian and non-civilian targets. Facts on the ground show the opposite: guided missiles and bombs have been fired deliberately at civilian targets including homes, civilian shelters and ambulances.

Today after midnight, IOF expanded its ground invasion in the south of Gaza City. Troops and tanks penetrated the southern Gaza-City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa and stayed there for hours before withdrawing to the suburbs of al-Zahra town, south to Gaza City. The IOF had dropped thousands of leaflets ordering the residents of Tel al-Hawa to evacuate their homes. Thousands of families evacuated, especially as their neighborhood had been targeted with air attacks tens of times during the past 16 days.

Aircraft, tanks, artillery batteries and naval vessels have been used in attacks on civilian targets, public infrastructure and border areas. According to Al Mezan's careful monitoring, the IOF has killed at least 842 Palestinian in the Gaza Strip since the start of its Operation Cast Lead on 27 December 2009. This number includes at least 175 children and 58 women. This number is restricted to those whom Al Mezan has verified and double-checked. The Center estimates that between 200 and 230 children have been killed. Many of those are still under the rubble of houses under areas under IOF's invasion. Moreover, tens of children who were killed on the first day of the attacks have not yet been verified; therefore, the Center prefers to wait until they are accounted for properly. Six of those who were killed by IOF were ambulance crewmen, who were killed while trying to reach victims of IOF's attacks. The number also includes three journalists and dozens of elderly people. Al Mezan estimates that at least 85 percent of the casualties were civilian non-combatants.

Moreover, at least 2,960 people have been injured and/or maimed during the same period. This number includes at least 600 children and 385 women.

During the IOF's military operations, it directly targeted 142 houses with guided missiles and shells. However, the number of houses that have been completely destroyed in these attacks is at least 470 houses. Another 3,000 to 4,000 houses have been partially destroyed. The IOF also destroyed 38 mosques, 13 of which were directly and wantonly targeted. Thirty-nine schools were damaged, of which five (and one university) were directly targeted. IOF attacks also destroyed 42 civilian facilities, including CBO offices and quasi-governmental institutions. Furthermore, it destroyed 107 privately-owned workshops and small industrial and commercial plants. IOF also destroyed 90 police and security installations and 25 sites that were used for military purposes by armed groups.

The above figures do not account for the attacks that targeted open areas and fields, or the dozens of bodies that remain under the rubble in areas under IOF's invasion; especially in eastern Gaza City, eastern Beit Lahia and Jabaliya as well as the eastern borders of Khan Younis, Rafah and central Gaza district.

UNRWA [the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees] has reported today that well over 20,000 civilians have been admitted into its 32 shelters throughout the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, Al Mezan believes that this number represents only 10 percent of the number of people who have been forcefully displaced from their homes. The residents of the above-mentioned destroyed and damaged houses have left. Thousands have also left their houses after they received threats of bombardment of their neighbors' houses by the IOF. The vast majority of the displaced civilians have taken shelter in the houses of their relatives and friends, which adds to the difficulties civilians face under a severe humanitarian crisis, lack of food, power, cooking gas and water.

Al Mezan Center asserts that countless acts by the IOF represent scandalous war crimes, the worst of which being the indiscriminate attacks on houses full of inhabitants, killing ambulance teams while attempting to reach them and leaving them to bleed or starve to death only meters from IOF troops. Additionally, IOF's restriction of the passage of foodstuffs and targeting of electric lines has caused civilians to live in dire conditions.

Al Mezan Center therefore renews its strong condemnation of the IOF's aggression on the Gaza Strip, and its flagrant disregard of the applicable rules of international law. This behavior has so far cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and the suffering of hundreds of thousands.

Al Mezan also renews its deploring of the failure of the international community to prevent such violations of international law. While civilians have been murdered, the UN Security Council took a very long time debating disputed political affairs, while it should have acted to prevent the killing of children and innocent civilians, and to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid in accordance with international law.

Hence, Al Mezan Center calls upon the UN Secretary-General, as a matter of utmost urgency, to focus on the protection of civilians who are the main victims of the violation of international law by Israel. Political debates can wait, however, civilian life cannot be compensated. The United Nations is called on to ensure the compliance with international law and the protection of civilians, including its own staff. Every hour of aggression on Gaza in the way we have witnessed during the past 16 days means the loss of more civilian life, destruction of property and extending the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people who should be protected, not neglected.

Al Mezan Center also calls on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, of 1949, to live up to their legal and moral responsibilities upholding their own obligations under Common Article 1, by respecting, and ensuring respect of, the Convection.

The Center, while commending the worldwide action against these violations, calls on civil societies around the world to exert more pressure on their governments so that they act in conformity with the relevant human rights and humanitarian obligations as prescribed in relevant international law.

This press release has been edited.