Gaza Holocaust: Nazi’s accused of targeting fleeing families in ceasefire


Gaza conflict: Israel accused of targeting fleeing families in ceasefire

Palestinians claim Israel targeted unarmed civilians as they returned to their homes in the southern city of Rafah during the first day of a 72-hour truce

A Palestinian family carries belongings as they return to their home in Beit Hanoun

A Palestinian family carries belongings as they return to their home in Beit Hanoun Photo: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

By , in Rafah

Israel faced allegations from residents returning to their shattered homes in southern Gaza that it had targeted fleeing, unarmed civilians as a previous ceasefire fell apart.

The claims came from Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah, who took advantage of the first day of a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt to venture back to neighbourhoods that had been the subject of a powerful Israeli bombardment that lasted several days.

Hopes were rising on Tuesday that the new ceasefire, which appeared to be holding, would pave the way for a diplomatic formula to restore long-term calm, with both Israel and Hamas sending delegations to Cairo for talks.

But there seemed little prospect that the mutual emnity fuelled by the conflict that lasted almost a month would begin to abate any time soon, as angry Rafah residents recounted running away in terror under a fusillade of heavy shelling after they had returned home at the start of a previous ceasefire last Friday.

The mass flight occurred when hostilities resumed, just half an hour after the truce – negotiated by the United States and the United Nations – was meant to have taken effect. Residents said they had been assured it was safe to leave UN shelters where they had been seeking refuge and return to their homes.

Within minutes, there was an eruption of shelling in Oruba Street in eastern Rafah, resulting in several people being killed and injured, and hundreds of others escaping in panic as shells descended, according to witnesses. One woman is still critically ill after suffering shrapnel wounds during the attack. Another miscarried her unborn child due to the effects of shock and being forced to run in fear, her relations said.

Their claims – made independently to theTelegraph in a series of interviews – appear to contradict the version of events given by Israel, which says that ceasefire was broken by a militant attack at 9.30am, an hour later, that resulted in the death of three soldiers.

The accounts are similar to claims by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which accused Israel of violating the laws of war, citing the testimony of residents from the neighbouring town of Khuza’a, who said they were fired on as they tried to escape an earlier barrage.

The accounts coincided with a threat from the Palestinian leadership to have Israel indicted for war crimes by reviving an application to join the International Criminal Court.

The four-week conflict has left 1,867 Gazans dead – mostly civilians – compared with 67 on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. At least 408 of the Palestinian dead are children.

A Palestinian inspects destroyed houses and the area where the Al-Wafaa hospital used to stand in Shejaea

“The attacks started at 8.25 or 8.30 when we had only come home 15 or 20 minutes earlier,” said Salah al-Arja, 32, a wedding hall owner who said his wife Islam, 28, and three children, Mohammed, two, Abdullah, four, and seven-year-old Rozan, were injured after being hit by flying fragments in the bombardment.

“After firing started, we looked outside and saw many people, including motorcyclists and their passengers, injured or dead in the street. They initially targeted two trucks. One of the drivers opened the door but just fell out, apparently dead.

“We tried to escape into a passageway. They were shelling us as we ran. We could see shells falling around. There were hundreds of others running too. People had felt secure enough to return to their homes but they fooled us with this ceasefire.”

Tawfiq Abu Sohaiban, 38, described the scene as “complete terror”, adding: “We just reached home at 8.20am when suddenly, less than 10 minutes later, they started showering the whole area with shells. We tried to escape down a lane but there seemed to be about 400 people trying to escape and all my family got separated. We didn’t know where to go. We were just running. They were shelling at us while we were escaping.”

His sister-in-law, Safa’a Abu Sohaiban, 30, suffered serious leg and abdominal wounds from shrapnel as she ran carrying her infant son.

Israeli accused Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of Gaza, of breaking the truce after militants killed three soldiers in a tunnel ambush.

More than 200 people are believed to have died in the subsequent bombardment of eastern Rafah, which left widespread destruction and only abated early yesterday when the latest ceasefire took hold and Israel withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza.

Many Israelis living on the Gaza border were unconvinced by the announcement that the military’s mission to end rocket strikes and tunnel infiltration was accomplished. Israel’s government, they said, had taken too long to deal with the network of underground passages Palestinian militants had been digging for years, and it may have acted prematurely in pulling the army out of Gaza.

“They knew about it for so long and did nothing. Who can promise me that all the tunnels have been destroyed?” said Leah Musafi, 30, from Nir Am, a kibbutz near the Gaza border. “I am angry that they are not pressing on with the offensive.”

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