Gazans have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide
11 January 2009 (IRIN) - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip received on 10 January
air-dropped leaflets warning them that the Israeli military was about to step up
operations against militant targets there and that they should take necessary
precautions. However, it remained unclear what Palestinians could do, given that
UN officials have said Gazans have no safe place to hide.
The Israeli army said it was about to
step up operations against militant targets in Gaza (file photo)
"There is nowhere safe in Gaza," Allegra Pacheco, deputy head of the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian
territories, said. His views were echoed by Max Gaylord, the UN Humanitarian
Coordinator in Jerusalem.
The leaflet told Gazans that they should follow the recent example of Rafah's
residents, who fled their homes in the south of the Gaza Strip after receiving
similar announcements instructing them to do so just before the Israeli airforce
began to pound the city, which is along the Egyptian border. Israeli officials
said Palestinian militants were using tunnels to smuggle weapons under this
Witnesses said up to 50,000 people fled the town, and the UN reported that
Israel's ongoing Operation Cast Lead, which began on 27 December, has created
the largest number of forcibly displaced Palestinians since the 1967 war.
Nowhere to run
While most Gazans are already refugees from previous wars, they cannot cross a
border now, as the perimeter of the territory is sealed off from all sides. They
can only find a relatively safer place within the Gaza Strip, one of the most
densely populated areas on the planet.
The latest leaflet said the Israeli military "will continue to target tunnels,
weapons storage facilities and terror operatives with growing intensity
throughout the Gaza Strip. For your safety and that of your families, stay away
An Israeli military spokesman could not explain how a civilian in Gaza was
supposed to know where a weapons storage facility was and how the person could
then avoid it, particularly as the army itself has said militants were hiding in
Furthermore, places where Palestinians have sought refuge, including UN
facilities, have been attacked, and civilians have been killed while fleeing,
according to testimonies gathered by Israeli and Palestinian human rights
What is a legitimate target?
Israel's definition of a legitimate target has been challenged by the Israeli
rights group B'tselem, which, for example, rejects the military's claims that it
can attack the civilian infrastructure of Hamas, including government and police
facilities. International law, the group said, did not consider these military
While B'tselem said Hamas was committing "war crimes" by firing rockets at
Israeli civilians, it acknowledged that the Islamist group was also in charge of
the enclave and provided basic services, and that these should not be targeted.
Overnight on 10 January, as has become the norm recently, Israel carried out
more than 60 airstrikes over the Gaza Strip.
Medical staff on 11 January estimated that over 850 Palestinians had been killed
in Israel's two-week military offensive, including some 235 children, and more
than 3,500 injured. During the same period, 13 Israelis have died in the
White phosphorous allegation
Meanwhile, a military analyst with New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said
Israel was using white phosphorous illegally in its offensive.
While international law allows the use of the substance as a smokescreen, it
cannot be used near civilians as it has an incidental "incendiary effect that
can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects
in the vicinity on fire".
The expert saw it being used over crowded residential areas and doctors in the
enclave have reported untypical burns that they are having trouble treating.
The Israeli army said it followed international law and did not use illegal
weapons or employ illegal tactics.
It remains difficult to independently verify information about what is going on
inside Gaza as journalists and researchers are still banned from the entering
... Payvand News - 01/12/09 ... --