America condemns Israeli attack as Gaza faces collapse
As washington condemned an Israeli attack on a UN school, amar al-Khadar was using the few surprising hours of calm to try and scrape the tar off his boots. It had formed a perfect contour when he rushed into a burning mechanics yard in Shujaiya after a missile strike.
The task had been made especially awkward as one hand, burnt while getting to an injured man, was heavily bandaged. It had been hours of frantic work after a missile strike on the main market which resulted in more than 150 injured and 15 dead.
"It could have been many more killed if both the fuel tanks they had in that garage had exploded, luckily only the smaller one did," said 34-year-old Mr Khadar.
"There were people lying in the streets. Two of us had to jump over them to get to the men in the garage; otherwise the people there would have burnt alive. It was a terrible thing that happened."
People were caught un-awares, out shopping in the days of Eid al-Fitr. Israeli military had declared a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire; it was a rare opportunity to stock up.
The ambulance service was regrouping after the shelling of a refugee shelter in Jabaliya Elementary Girls School which killed 19 and wounded 100, and other bombings near Khan Younis. Most of the wounded had to be ferried to hospitals by car.
"We used all the ambulances we had available, which is not many," Mr Khadar acknowledged. There is always problem with getting fuel, and the shifts were light because some of the men had gone home for Eid."
Mr Khadar rushed out without telling his wife and children where he was going, a practice many in the emergency services adopt to spare them further worry.
Most of them have been doing the job without getting paid, because they are employed by Gaza's Hamas administration which is bankrupt. Public employees hired by Fatah, on the other hand, receive their salaries; another point of the internecine friction between the Palestinian organisations.
Sitting at their office at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, a group of paramedics reflected on other tribulations of being a Hamas employee.
"The Israelis treat us like enemy, they see us not as the ambulance service but as Hamas, they are breaking international law doing this, but we know they can do that and get away with it. We have come to accept being shot at," said Yusuf Abu Musahem.
Sometimes with lethal consequences; one of their colleagues, Mohammed al-Abdala, was killed in Beit Hanoun last week.
The Israeli military claimed that fighters had been using ambulances for transport. This is denied by the paramedics. They did so with a touch of weariness.
"They always say that, but then they check the ambulances in the front-line areas anyway, if there were resistance people there, they will find them," said Abu Moussab. "But perhaps they think all ambulances are carrying the resistance, maybe that's why they shoot at us."
Meanwhile, the White House described the Israeli shelling of a UN school which killed 15 people as "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible".
A spokesman said there appeared to be little doubt "whose artillery was involved".
The school was sheltering thousands of civilians who had been told to leave their homes by the Israeli army.
The Palestinian Health ministry said yesterday that 1,400 Gazans had so far been killed by the Israeli army. Palestinians fired more than 60 rockets at Israel yesterday.
One Israeli was killed by a mortar bomb and several were injured. The head of the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees warned the UN Security Council yesterday that if Israel continues its offensive in the Gaza Strip, it will have to reassume its responsibilities as occupying power, and provide humanitarian services to the population.
Speaking in New York, Pierre Krahenbuhl said Gaza's infrastructure and health service were on the verge of collapse. "I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation," he said, noting that 220,000 Palestinians are now sheltering in UN facilities and that eight of his colleagues have been killed since the fighting began over three weeks ago.
Israel passed on its responsibilities as occupying power to the Palestinian Authority in 1994 as part of the Oslo accords. In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces to the borders and pulled out of its settlements.
The Israeli army mobilised a further 16,000 reserve soldiers yesterday as Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire until the army destroys the militant Islamist movement's network of tunnels penetrating Israel from the Gaza Strip.
"We have neutralised tens of terror tunnels and we are determined to complete this important mission with or without a ceasefire,'' Mr Netanyahu said at a meeting of his cabinet.
"I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel.''
The mobilisation appears aimed at giving the government the option of further escalating the ground operation in Gaza, though it is believed that Mr Netanyahu is reluctant to be drawn into an all-out reoccupation of the crowded coastal enclave. This would increase the risk of Israeli casualties, heighten international criticism and raise fears about the chaos that would ensue if Hamas were dislodged from power.
Israel sent a delegation to Cairo on Wednesday for talks on a possible ceasefire but its demands and those of Hamas remain mutually exclusive. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service