Amnesty International team reports from the rubble of Gaza

The Amnesty international fact-finding team that arrived in Gaza City on Saturday, has continued to collect evidence of the extent of destruction in the area. In a post on Amnesty International’s Livewire blog, the team described how “previously busy neighbourhoods have been flattened into moonscapes,” and “how there is no camera lens wide enough to embrace the sheer dimensions of the devastation.” The team also described how power lines have been torn down, and water mains ripped up. Gaza’s infrastructure is now in dire condition. Prolonged blackouts are the norm, tens of thousands of people have no access to clean water and sewage is now flowing in the open from the broken conduits. On Monday, the team learnt that during the past three weeks there was nowhere for people to go where they could feel safe. Schools, medical facilities and UN buildings all took direct hits from the Israeli army’s indiscriminate shelling. Artillery shells for use on conventional battlefields, not for pinpoint targets, have been fired into dense residential areas. In an UNRWA primary school in Beit Lahiya, where 1,898 people were sheltering from the fighting, an artillery shell hit a classroom on the second floor where 35 people were sleeping at 6am one morning. Two brothers, aged five and seven, were killed. “Their 18-year-old sister was grievously injured and had to have her leg amputated. Their mother lost a hand and sustained a serious head injury. Twelve others were injured. Their relatives told us that they had fled their homes to escape the bombardments and had come to the school hoping to find safety.” By the rubble of the American School in Gaza, the team spoke to the father of school guard Mahmoud Mohammed Selmi Abu Qleiq, killed when Israeli F16 aircraft bombed the school campus. Gaza’s only international school and “part of the vision for the future of Palestine”, is now a huge mass of tangled wire and gigantic concrete slabs. “The old man sat overlooking the rubble and explained how he tried to call his son’s mobile phone when he heard the huge explosions, but he never answered… His son’s body was found 50 metres from the school.” The team also visited the UNRWA Field Office in Gaza City, which came under Israeli fire on 15 January. Warehouses full of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid were destroyed when white phosphorus and high explosive Israeli artillery shells hit the compound. “Four days later, the fire is still burning – the charred and smouldering remnants of millions of dollars’ worth of food and medicine all destroyed. The ground outside the warehouses is still slick with the thousands of litres of burning cooking oil that spilled out. Several UN vehicles were also destroyed in the attacks.” The al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was also hit in the attacks. Medical stores were burnt and Israeli tanks had crushed ambulances to make roadblocks. “Hundreds of people from nearby buildings had taken shelter in the hospital buildings, just as others elsewhere in the city had sought refuge in the UN compound or schools, believing that they were places safe from Israeli attacks. They were wrong.”