30 Palestinians Dead as Holiday Quiet Shattered

Eight children killed when missile hits park in Al-Shati. IDF denies responsibility for strike, blaming Islamic Jihad.

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Palestinian mourners watch the funeral procession for some of the eight children killed in a playground in Al-Shati on July 28, 2014.
Palestinian mourners watch the funeral procession for some of the eight children killed in a playground in Al-Shati on July 28, 2014.Credit: AFP

Residents of the Gaza Strip awoke yesterday with the hope that the start of the three-day Id al-Fitr holiday would be a quiet one. But the morning’s relative calm was shattered in the afternoon, and the day ended with 30 Palestinians dead, including 10 people – among them eight children – killed in a park in the Al-Shati refugee camp and others killed at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces denied responsibility for both those strikes, saying in a statement that both resulted from misfired Palestinian rockets that had been aimed at Israel but fell short. This claim was strongly denied by Palestinian militant groups.

The death toll rose further after additional bodies were discovered under the ruins of bombed houses in Khozawa, near Khan Yunis, and Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood. Previously, rescue crews had been unable to reach these areas because of heavy IDF shelling, but the initial quiet enabled them to do so.

As of yesterday morning, Palestinian officials said the death toll in Gaza had climbed to 1,066, among them 248 children, 93 women and 47 senior citizens. In addition, 6,233 Palestinians have been wounded, including 1,994 children, 1,169 women and 257 senior citizens.

Traffic was thin on the road yesterday and the markets almost empty. “Anyone who wasn’t injured and did leave their homes sought out only the most basic products, maybe things for the children,” one Gaza resident said. “All we did last night and this morning was pray for calm and better days.”

But the morning’s calm was shattered in the afternoon, with the news that a 15-year-old boy had been killed in the Jabalya refugee camp.

Later came news that Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, had been bombed, producing more dead and wounded. According to both Palestinian militant groups and Arab media outlets, one of the hospital’s outbuildings was struck by a missile from an Israeli plane. Both the Palestinians and the Arab media dismissed the IDF claim that it was hit by a Palestinian rocket.

Shortly afterward came the report that a private car had been hit by IDF fire, killing four people.

The next major incident was at Al-Shati, in western Gaza, which killed 10 people – including eight children from the Abu Shafaka and al-Mukdad families – and wounded 40. According to Palestinian reports, the children were playing on seesaws in the park when a missile hit the site. In this case, too, Palestinians said an Israeli plane fired the missile, but the IDF said the missile was actually fired by an Islamic Jihad cell.

Palestinians – especially Islamic Jihad – vehemently denied this, saying the sheer force of the strike and the extent of the damage proved it was caused by a weapon more deadly than any Islamic Jihad possesses. Palestinian police are investigating and collected fragments of the missile in order to determine whether it was an Israeli or Palestinian one.

Palestinian human rights groups are also investigating the incident at Al-Shati, but haven’t yet finished their probe and therefore issued no statement yesterday.

People who were present at the scene told an investigator from the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights that a car or motorcycle carrying militants had driven by the park, and the missile was apparently aimed at them but missed. They also said that after the missile hit, they heard the sound of a departing warplane. That accords with the experience of the past three weeks, in which Palestinians have generally said they don’t hear the Israeli planes arriving, but do hear them depart after a missile has been launched.

The investigator also said that all the children’s bodies were torn to shreds. This, he said, seems to bolster the claim that they were struck by a powerful missile, like those Israel possesses, rather than the weaker warheads the Palestinians have.

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