Ambulances were able to
drive to some of the most heavily shelled areas in
Gaza for the first time to
collect the dead and injured yesterday, as Israel paused its
military offensive for three hours to allow in aid, amid growing
international pressure to call a ceasefire and ease the
A team of medics and
volunteers from the Palestinian Red Crescent took advantage of
the lull in fighting to drive to Zeitoun, the scene of an
Israeli attack on a house on Monday that was known to have
killed nine members of the Samouni family. It was the first time
medics had been able to reach the scene.
Muhammad Shaheen, a
volunteer with the Red Crescent, said the team found a scene of
devastation. They discovered another 10 corpses inside the house
and "dozens" more dead lying in the rubble in the area around.
"It was an unbelievable
sight," he said. "There was a huge number of dead bodies, houses
were completely destroyed and many others partially destroyed."
The team found around 10 injured people in the house and another
15 who were unhurt, but still sheltering from the fighting.
As aid trucks drove in,
many Palestinians left their homes to shop and stock up on food
while they could. "Food and milk - what else can we hope for in
three hours," said Ahmed Abu Kamel, a father of six who lives
near Gaza City. "We want it all to end."
Several Israeli tanks
were close by, next to the remains of the Israeli settlement at
Netzarim, which has become a key Israeli military position
during this conflict. The troops told the medical teams to park
their vehicles and walk to the house to collect the dead and
injured. All were brought back to Gaza City.
"We tried to help as much
as we could, but it was hard to get access to the whole area.
The roads were destroyed, there was rubble everywhere," said
Israeli officials suggested that similar pauses in the fighting
would be held every afternoon during the conflict. Peter Lerner,
an Israeli military spokesman who works on the crossings, said
lulls would be considered. Even during the pause in operations,
Israeli soldiers might still fight, he said. "For every attack
against the army, there will be a response," he said.
But aid workers said
three hours was not enough to allow sufficient relief into Gaza
after months of an Israeli economic blockade. John Ging,
director of operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency in
Gaza, said it was a "hell on earth ... Let's stop the fighting,
not just for three hours, but for 24 hours a day," he said.
"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorised and
There were occasional
explosions heard across Gaza during the three-hour lull, and
just minutes after it had expired the fighting returned. Israeli
military helicopters were seen in the sky and there were several
heavy explosions that sent up thick clouds of black smoke. Two
rockets fired from Gaza streaked through the sky and landed in
the southern Israeli town of Be'er Sheva. More rockets followed
The death toll continued
to mount. Last night, an Israeli air strike on a car killed a
man and his three children in northern Gaza, Palestinian medical
At least 28 Palestinians
were killed yesterday in attacks across the Gaza Strip,
according to Palestinian medical officials. The overall
Palestinian death toll was at more than 660, with nearly 3,000
injured. Journalists are still banned from entering Gaza to
report on the killings. On the Israeli side, seven soldiers and
three civilians have been killed in the past 12 days.
In a separate incident,
the aid agency Care International said one of its staff on a
food distribution project was killed on Tuesday night when his
home was hit by an Israeli air strike. Muhammad Samouni died in
the attack and his son was critically injured, the agency said.
lorries carrying medical supplies and food were allowed into
Gaza yesterday, along with deliveries of industrial diesel,
concern about the crisis is still growing. The World Bank warned
there was a threat of a severe public health crisis because of a
shortage of drinking water and the failure of the sewage system.
Nearly all sewage and water pumps were out of operation because
of a lack of electricity and limited fuel, it said.
Even when fuel was
delivered, it was too dangerous to take it to the pumps where it
was most needed, the bank said. It said that as well as fuel, a
regular electricity supply was needed and maintenance work was
urgently required on a large sewage lake in Beit Lahiya that was
in danger of bursting.
"As of today, nearly the
entire population of Gaza is without running water and is
dependent on their own stored water supplies and limited sales
by private water distributors," the bank said.
Sewage had already
flooded in some areas, it said, and warned that as many as
10,000 Palestinians were at risk of drowning if the Beit Lahiya
sewage lake burst.
Guardian, Thursday 8 January