GAZA (Reuters) – “Abu Salah died, his wife died. Abu Tawfiq died, his son died, his wife also died. Mohammed Ibrahim died, and his mother died. Ishaq died and Nasar died. The wife of Nael Samouni died. Many people died.
“There were maybe more than 25 people killed,” said Ahmed Ibrahim Samouni, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was wounded in the leg and chest but survived the alleged Israeli shelling of a house in north Gaza on Monday, Jan 5.
A report by the U.N. Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 30 people were killed in the incident. Most were members of Samouni’s family.
OCHA deputy chief Allegre Pacheco quoted witnesses in the Zeitun district as saying Israeli troops had ordered about 100 civilians to get into the house and stay there, out of their way. But the following day the house was hit by Israeli shells.
“There are no bomb shelters in Gaza,” she said.
An Israeli army spokesman on Friday denied the allegation.
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) did not mass people into any specific building,” Jacob Dallal told Reuters. “Furthermore, we checked with regard to IDF fire on the 5th. The IDF did not target any building in or near Zeitun on the 5th.”
Lying in hospital in Gaza, the Palestinian boy told how his family were ordered into a house that was hit a day later.
“We were asleep when the tanks and the planes struck, we all slept in one room,” Samouni said in a weak voice. “One shell hit our house. Thank God we were not hit.
“We ran out of the house and saw 15 men … they landed from helicopters on rooftops of buildings.” Soldiers beat residents and forced them all into one house, he said.
DASH FOR WATER
But the house that they supposed would provide shelter from the battle was hit the next day, and Samouni’s mother was among those killed. Samouni kept Yacoub, 11, and two younger brothers alive and tried to help injured adults lying among the dead.
“There was no water, no bread, nothing to eat,” he said.
“I got up on my own. I had my wound tied and I got up to get them water from outside, trying to hide from tanks and planes. I went to our neighbors and called on them until I almost fainted. I brought a gallon of water.”
Yacoub said he went to “check on my mom and found her dead, and my brothers next to her. My older brother Mohamad was also dead, and the youngest one, he was in my mother’s lap.”
Local Red Crescent rescue workers and a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reached the house on Wednesday after being denied access by the Israeli military for what the Red Cross called an “unacceptable” period.
A Palestinian medic said the team had called out for survivors and heard the voices of children.
“We broke down the door and entered and they were four injured children on the ground, and between them there were 16 martyrs (dead),” Khaled Abu Zayed said.
The children were starving and too weak to stand on their own, the Geneva-based ICRC said.
“One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses,” it said.
Earth redoubts built by Israeli bulldozers blocked streets so the ambulances could not get close. “The wounded had to be brought out on donkey carts,” the U.N.’s Pacheco told Reuters.
The ICRC accused Israel of delaying ambulance access to the area and demanded it grant safe access for Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to return to evacuate more wounded.
Jessica Montel, head of the Israel human rights organization B’TSelem, said she was still awaiting an IDF account of the alleged incident.
“We don’t have an explanation from the IDF about their behavior in Zeitun, neither why the Samouni compound was shelled in the first place nor why ambulances were not able to reach the wounded,” she said.
In a written response to the ICRC, the Israeli army said it works in coordination with international aid bodies “so that civilians can be provided with assistance” and that it “in no way intentionally targets civilians.”