Amnesty International team gains access to Gaza
An Amnesty International fact-finding team arrived in Gaza City on Saturday hours before the Israeli government announced a ceasefire. The team travelled to Gaza by way of Egypt, entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, and then travelled by road north to Gaza City. In a post on Amnesty International's Livewire blog, the team described how they found evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus by that the Israeli army in densely populated areas in and around Gaza City. "In an alleyway in Gaza City, we saw barefooted children running around lumps of still smouldering phosphorus. We found more on the roof of a family's house and still more on a busy street." The team also described how rescue workers are now finally able to remove bodies from the rubble of houses, having been prevented previously from accessing the areas by the Israeli army. In the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, rescue workers were pulling out the bodies of members of the Sammuni family from the rubble of their home. They had been killed in Israeli strikes two weeks earlier and Israeli soldiers had subsequently bulldozed the house on top of them. "The Israeli army did not allow rescue workers to reach the area, despite repeated requests, and the bodies were in a state of decomposition. The smell was unbearable." The team has learned that more than 100 decaying bodies have been pulled out from under rubble in various parts of Gaza. "At Zaitoun, there was little machinery to help with the effort – teams of people worked with sledgehammers and even bare hands to reach the corpses buried under the flattened concrete." Next door to the rubble of the Sammuni family home, the Amnesty International team found evidence that Israeli soldiers had taken over homes and used them as military positions. "The soldiers had not only smashed holes in the outer walls to fire from, but also vandalized the furniture and everything else in the houses.." Despite the announcement of the Israeli ceasefire, the team heard Israeli artillery fire north of Gaza City on Sunday. In the evening, local human rights workers and medical doctors told them that an 11-year-old girl had been killed and her mother injured in the morning in north Gaza. "Throughout the day, wherever we went in Gaza City and surrounding areas, we found more and more destroyed and damaged homes, mosques, schools and government buildings; some completely flattened, by bombs dropped by F16 fighter jets, others rendered uninhabitable by the artillery and missile strikes." Amnesty International had previously made repeated requests to the Israeli authorities to enter Gaza via the Erez crossing from Israel, but received no response. The Israeli authorities have barred virtually all access to Gaza by international human rights workers and journalists since early November 2008.