Israel Using Flechette Shells in Gaza; Hospital Attacked
July 24, 2014
Harriet Sherwood / The Guardian & Peter Beaumont, Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Weaver / The Guardian & PressTV & Haaretz
Human rights group accuse the Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts. Palestinian officials say four killed in hospital as Israel launches fresh air strikes after bloodiest day.
Israel Using Flechette Shells in Gaza
Harriet Sherwood / The Guardian
Jerusalem (July 20, 2014) -- The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operation in Gaza.
Six flechette shells were fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on 17 July, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Nahla Khalil Najjar, 37, suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict. "As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict," a spokesperson said in response to a request for specific comment on the deployment of flechettes.
B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, describes a flechette shell as "an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide".
The munitions are not prohibited under international humanitarian law, but according to B'Tselem, "other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries."
The legality of flechette munitions was upheld by the Israeli supreme court in 2002, and according to an Israeli military source, they are particularly effective against enemy fighters operating in areas covered by vegetation.
The source said a number of armies around the world deploy flechette shells, and that they were intended solely for use against legitimate military targets in accordance with international law.
The IDF has deployed flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon before. B'Tselem has documented the deaths of nine Palestinians in Gaza from flechettes in 2001 and 2002. Flechettes have also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Israeli military deployed artillery shells containing white phosphorous in densely populated areas of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, causing scores of deaths and extensive burns. It initially issued a categorical denial of reports of the use of white phosphorous, but later admitted it, saying the weapon was only used to create smokescreens.
Human Rights Watch said its use of the munitions in Operation Cast Lead was indiscriminate and evidence of war crimes.
In response to a legal challenge, the IDF said last year it would "avoid the use in built-up areas of artillery shells containing white phosphorus, with two narrow exceptions." The exceptions were not disclosed.
Gaza Crisis: Palestinian Death Toll
Climbs Past 500 as Hospital Is Hit
Peter Beaumont, Harriet Sherwood and Matthew Weaver / The Guardian
GAZA CITY & JERUSALEM (July 21, 2014) -- As the death toll in Gaza passes 500, UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls on Israel to 'exercise maximum restraint' and spare civilian lives. The Palestinian death toll in the conflict between Hamas and Israel reached 548 on Monday as officials said four were killed when a Gaza hospital was hit by Israeli fire.
It followed the bloodiest day of the conflict so far on Sunday when at least 120 Palestinians were killed in Shujai'iya, a third of them women and children. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were also killed – two of them US citizens – in the heaviest loss of life for the Israeli military in years.
Staff at the al-Asqa Martyrs hospital were said to be in shock that the building was hit. "People can't believe this is happening – that a medical hospital was shelled without the briefest warning. It was already full with patients," said Fikr Shalltoot, director of programmes at Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza city.
"Five people, I gather, were killed, and 15 were injured, including medical staff. I know the staff very well. My nephew is a medical doctor there." The US president, Barack Obama, has called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Israel continued its action on the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujai'iya on Monday, where bombardment and fierce fighting on the ground the day before had left shattered streets littered with bodies.
Mounting international pressure for a ceasefire came amid continuing violence in Gaza. Overnight, Israeli strikes hit Gaza city, and the south and centre of the coastal enclave, home to 1.8 million people.
Twenty-five members of the same family were reported killed in an air strike in the south of Gaza, and a further 10 people were killed near Khan Younis.
In the West Bank, Palestinians began three days of mourning for the dead in Gaza. A general strike was under way on Monday.
The Israel Defence Forces said it had foiled attempts by Hamas fighters to infiltrate Israel through two tunnels from Gaza on Monday. Ten militants were killed in air strikes. The IDF also suffered casualties, Israel Radio reported.
Meanwhile, army spokesman Peter Lerner said the IDF could not rule out the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas, despite denials late on Sunday by the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor. Investigations were continuing, the IDF said.
By Monday morning, 43 access points to 16 different tunnels had been discovered by Israeli troops on the ground. Military sources said the “sophisticated network of tunnels” within Gaza and under the border to Israel was much more extensive that originally thought.
The conflict is rapidly threatening to turn into a major humanitarian crisis hitting electricity and water supplies and seeing large numbers driven from their homes. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has opened 60 of its schools to shelter more than 83,000 people who have fled so far.
Obama's appeal came as the United Nations security council opened urgent talks on efforts to strike a ceasefire deal as Israel ramped up a major military offensive with fresh strikes on Monday in the Palestinian territory.
"The members of the security council expressed serious concern about the growing number of casualties. The members of the security council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities," Rwandan UN ambassador Eugene Gasana told reporters after an emergency meeting of the 15-member council.
Amid signs of mounting pressure on both sides to end the conflict, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is in the Middle East in an attempt to help broker a ceasefire, condemned the Israeli assault in Shuji'iya as an "atrocious action".
The call of a halt to the fighting came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, was due to fly to Cairo on Monday for meetings with senior officials from Egypt and other countries, as diplomatic efforts to end the two-week long conflict appeared to be gaining some momentum.
The state department said Kerry would leave early on Monday for Egypt where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012.
In a statement on Sunday evening, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US and its international partners were "deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life".
Ceasefire discussions between Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and the Palestinian president were due to take place on Monday after being delayed by a day.
UN chief Ban was also in Doha where he urged Israel to "exercise maximum restraint".
"Too many innocent people are dying . . . [and] living in constant fear," he told a news conference in Doha.
Speaking to the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, by telephone early on Monday, Obama expressed his concern over the deaths on both sides, the White House said in a statement.
In their second call in three days, Obama "reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself" and called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
David Cameron also spoke to Netanyahu, reiterating "the UK's strong support for Israel's right to take proportionate action to defend itself from" Gaza rockets, while expressing condolences over the Israeli deaths and concern over the "mounting civilian casualties in Gaza".
Cameron agreed with Netanyahu that the way out of the "spiral of violence" was through the Egyptian ceasefire initiative, a spokesman for the British PM said.
So far, truce efforts have been rejected by Hamas, which has pressed on with its own attacks, undaunted by the Israeli bombardment by land, sea and air.
The Doctors Without Borders charity urged Israel to "stop bombing civilians trapped in the Gaza Strip", noting the majority of the injured arriving in the Al-Shifa hospital were women and children.
"While the official line is that the ground offensive is aimed at destroying tunnels, what we see on the ground is that bombing is indiscriminate and that those who are dying are civilians," the French NGO said in a statement.
One Hundred Killed as Israeli Carnage Goes on in Gaza
(July 20, 2014) -- At least one hundred Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip in one day. According to local reports on Sunday, as many as 66 Palestinians were killed only in the Shujaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City.
Medical authorities called the killings in the area a "massacre", saying they have never seen such a level of violence before. The Israeli regime forces also killed dozens of others in other areas in the besieged enclave on the same day.
According to figures provided by emergency services, the total number of people killed since the beginning of the Israeli operation on July 8 stands at 469. More than 3,000 people have also been injured in the attacks. Sources say more than half of the victims are women and children.
Medics are warning of a serious humanitarian crisis in Gaza as hospitals are running out of basic medical supplies. The Palestinian Authority has declared three days of national mourning following Israel’s brutal shelling.
The Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas, says Palestinian resistance fighters have killed at least 32 Israeli soldiers since Saturday. Anti-Israel rallies are being held worldwide in condemnation of Tel Aviv's atrocities against Palestinians. The demonstrators urge an immediate end to the bloodshed in Gaza.
Operation Protective Edge, Day 14
TEL AVIV (July 22, 2014) -- Two terrorist cells infiltrated southern Israel via a tunnel from the Gaza Strip on Monday, as Israel began the 14th day of Operation Protective Edge. Casualties were reported among Israel Defense Forces troops.
Roads were closed and residents ordered to remain indoors until just after 10 A.M., when the incident was declared over. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces advanced into the Strip overnight, and clashes were reported in a number of areas. Two apparent tunnel sites were located by forces.
The UN Security Council ended an emergency session late Sunday expressing "serious concern" about the rising civilian death toll and demanding an immediate end to hostilities. US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, will be arriving in Israel later Monday.
The Israel Defense Forces released the names of six of the thirteen soldiers killed in the fighting in Gaza on Saturday night and Sunday. On Monday, the IDF said seven more soldiers were killed, bringing the death toll of IDF soldiers to 25 since the ground operation began late last week.
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its ground incursion, raising the death toll in Gaza to 508 since the beginning of the operation 14 days ago, with 3,130 wounded.
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