Children sent to playground to escape Gaza attacks cut to pieces in strike from the sky
IT was as the children played and the old men watched that the weapon fell from the sky and exploded in their midst.
In an instant, the eight youngsters and the two men were eviscerated. Even by the standards of the 21-day trial of strength between Israel and Hamas, their deaths stood out.
In the moments that followed, hundreds of angry and grief-stricken people gathered on the scene in Beach refugee camp, one of Gaza's most crowded and impoverished areas. Where the old men had been sitting, there were only scorched and blackened sandals and a spreading pool of blood. Where the children had been playing, there were more bloodstains and their own small items of footwear.
In among the human residue lay a black bucket, perforated by shrapnel, and an old broom, its bristles still smouldering.
Nearby, a parked car had been wrecked, with every window shattered and its bodywork riddled by shrapnel. Much the same had happened to the buildings closest to where the children and the old men had died: these apartment blocks displayed gaping windows and pockmarked walls.
"We ordered the children to play here, in front of our eyes, so they would avoid the bombing," said Nidal Al-Darby, who lives nearby.
Until a few minutes before the explosion, Mr Darby had been in the street himself. Then he went to join the afternoon 'Asr' prayer at the nearby mosque. But for this, he too would have been killed.
"The children were just cut to pieces," he said simply. "So were the old men. When I came here, one of them had lost his head."
The festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, began yesterday. Traditionally, this is a time when Muslims exchange greetings and sweets, children play in the streets and old men laze outside their front doors.
After this incident, people wept freely and a crowd chanting "Allahu Akbar" – or "God is Great" – carried the coffin of one of the dead along the street.
Mahmoud Hammo (19) rushed to the scene immediately after the explosion. "I picked up pieces of bodies: they were all lying on top of each other. There were legs cut off, arms cut off. One of the children had been decapitated," he said.
Mohammed Ahal, another witness who works as a medical technologist and as such is used to seeing dead and wounded human beings, said: "Look, I work in a hospital. But I was shocked. Shocked. And the women, some of them were unconscious from the shock of seeing what happened here."
All three witnesses were convinced that an Israeli drone had fired the fatal missile. In the middle of the street, a shallow crater showed the weapon's point of impact. However, Israel adamantly denied responsibility and suggested that a misfiring rocket launched by Hamas had caused the explosion. Col Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces, said: "This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short."
Minutes before the blast in Beach camp, another projectile exploded near an outbuilding in the grounds of Shifa Hospital, the biggest medical facility in Gaza, which is also home to hundreds of refugees.
This strike, which appeared to have inflicted no casualties, was also caused by a Hamas rocket, said Col Lerner.
There is no doubt that Hamas missiles do misfire and fall short. Last week, one rocket took off in a northerly direction before suddenly veering westwards and then hurtling into the sea.
But if a rocket did cause the Beach camp tragedy, that raises the question of what happened to the remains of the projectile.
After landing in Israel, many rockets have been preserved and placed on display to show the reality of the threat posed by Hamas.
There was no sign of a rocket - or of its remains – in the street where the children died yesterday.
For the Palestinians who live nearby, this incident has already been added to their litany of Israeli crimes – and their fury is heartfelt. (© Daily Telegraph, London)