Shelling of Gaza coast injures four Palestinians


ISRAEL’S ROUTINE shelling of the Gaza coast was heavier and louder than usual yesterday. It began at precisely 7.35am and ended at 9.25am. Four Palestinians were wounded – two little girls (4 and 5), a boy of 15 who was shot in the head, and a man.

Another boy (8) was also shot in the head by a sniper when he was playing near his house close to the land border with Israel. He is in a coma, on life support and under heavy sedation. The doctors in the intensive care unit at the Shifa hospital, the Strip’s main facility, said his situation will become clearer in 48 hours.

The battered and overburdened 340-bed hospital is no longer receiving the scores of patients it treated during the three weeks of Israel’s offensive which ended early Sunday morning. But in addition to the new wounded, less serious cases remain in the wards.

Specialists and nursing staff are sorely needed while the store of medicines is sufficient for now. Windows blown out by Israeli bombing of a nearby mosque have not been replaced because there is no panes of glass in Gaza. Plastic sheeting is used.

Once the shelling stopped, the streets began to fill with traffic and shops opened. Petrol pumps had fuel of all types for cars but there is no butagas for cooking. “The Israelis dump bruised fruits and vegetables on our markets,” stated one woman.

Much of Gaza’s once-rich agricultural sector has been flattened or bulldozed. Tanks churned up the potato fields in the north just as the plants had begun to sprout, while the olive groves in the devastated Zeitoun area have been uprooted by bulldozers.

Instead of fresh blooms, flower shops display silk and plastic substitutes in garish colours. Once upon a time, Gaza exported roses and strawberries to Europe in this season.

There are no street barrows heaped with strawberries in these days of war and hunger. Half of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens are children under 15, and 45 per cent are undernourished.

As the sun warmed this white city of half a million traumatised and fearful souls, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, spoke to the press in the battered compound housing a number of UN agencies.

He stepped over chunks of plaster and concrete, wooden boards and shattered glass to survey one of the offices.

The compound took collateral damage from three rockets fired by an Israeli F-16 when it bombed the neighbouring mansion where the British governor lived in colonial times. Eight white UN cars were either destroyed or severely damaged.

The elegant mansion had been used by the Palestinian Authority as a guest house. Former US president Bill Clinton and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stayed there, Mr Holmes said.

The undersecretary is in Gaza to prepare an assessment for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon who will submit it to the UN Security Council next Tuesday.

Mr Holmes said: “I had expected things to be bad, I had expected to see a lot of destruction. What I saw was actually more shocking than I expected, both in its extent and in its nature.”

He cited the “destruction of the industrial area in a very systematic way. It has huge implications for economic development of Gaza”.

He also referred to the American School in Jabaliya where 600 boys and girls studied together.

“I think what all this illustrates – quite apart from the political progress we desperately need to make sure this sort of thing never happens again – is that there is a huge humanitarian issue we need to address.

“There was already a humanita- rian crisis because of the failure of goods to get in here for 18 months . . . Add the terrible destruction . . . devastation caused by three weeks of violence and we have a much worse humanitarian crisis.”

The UN intends to launch an appeal for funds in about 10 days’ time.

The donations will cover immediate needs and the first stage of reconstruction, such as repair of the electrical system, water and sewage.

Mr Holmes also said that the UN recognises that the people of Gaza “want to see accountability for what has happened and that will be part of our discussions as well”.

“Accountability” is the new UN buzzword. It has never been mentioned in connection with previous violent events that have been inflicted on Gaza.

Around the corner, the former governor’s residence was a mound of large chunks of rubble, the remains of a balustrade hanging precariously from what was left of a wall.

A tattered Palestinian flag flapped gently against its poll, the untouched tennis court was littered with leaflets dropped by Israeli warplanes proclaiming the ceasefire.

On the walk back to the hotel, I passed the parliament house, obliterated by massive “smart” bombs that wounded people but did not wreck an adjacent mosque and surrounding blocks of flats.