Amira Hass / Gazans Say IDF Troops Ignored White Flags and Shot at Them

Gaza residents are claiming that some Palestinians killed were waving white flags at the time they were shot.

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Gaza residents are claiming that some Palestinians killed during the three weeks of fighting were waving white flags at the time they were shot. Four of them were members of the A-Najar family of the village of Khuza'a, east of Khan Yunis.

Statements attesting to the circumstances surrounding their deaths was provided to the B'Tselem human rights organization and Haaretz over the telephone.

On the night between January 12-13, Israel Defense Forces soldiers entered Khuza'a, which is only a few hundred meters from the border with Israel. A few hours of shelling caused fires, which residents attempted to put out, Monir A-Najar told Haaretz on Monday.

At around 5 A.M., the tanks started to enter the town's eastern sections. Thick smoke prevented residents from seeing what was happening, and they only heard sounds of the destruction of houses, shooting and shelling. The residents of the houses, adults and children, climbed out on the roofs of their houses on their own and for about an hour stood and waved white flags. Helicopters fired at them "in order to scare them, not to injure them," said Monir A-Najar.

At that point, about 8 A.M., the soldiers used loudspeakers to order them to gather at the center of the village. A few dozen of the residents gathered in the courtyard of Osama A-Najar's house. Monir A-Najar said the soldiers ordered them to leave the house two at a time.

The first to leave were Ruwahiya and Yasmin A-Najar. Yasmin told B'Tselem on January 14 that another group of women came out of a number of neighboring houses.

"We walked at the head of a group of women and we waved white flags. We managed to pass three houses on the street and then I saw an Israeli soldier 40 meters away aiming his weapon at us," said Yasmin A-Najar. "I thought he wanted us to come closer. Ruwahiya and I continued to walk and suddenly the soldier shot at us."

Yasmin was wounded in her right leg and Ruwahiya fell on the street with her head bleeding. The rest of the women panicked and scattered, hiding while the shooting continued.

Yasmin said she tried to return and help Ruwahiya but the soldiers fired at her. They also shot at the ambulance driver who arrived and he was forced to turn back, she said. When Ruwahiya was finally evacuated at 8 P.M., she was already dead.

In the morning, the army continued to destroy houses in the neighborhood, they said. The people who were hiding in the houses, after Ruwahiya was killed, started to flee the tanks, yelling Allahu Akhbar, said Monir A-Najar.

"We were all holding white flags, women's head scarves. We were fleeing and they were shooting at us," Monir A-Najar told Haaretz. He said special forces were deployed in the streets.

He said that when those fleeing were 100-150 meters from Osama A-Najar's house, three family members were killed: Mahmoud A-Najar, 56; Ahmad A-Najar, 25; and Halil A-Najar, 80. Monir said another 10 residents were killed that day, most from a missile that hit the school and a house next to it, where they were taking refuge.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said one of those killed was a member of the Iz al-Din al-Qassam militant wing of Hamas. Of the 50 houses destroyed or severely damaged in the town, the PCHR says one belonged to another Iz al-Din al-Qassam activist.

During the two weeks of the ground assault it was difficult for representatives of human rights groups to gather full statements from residents. Human rights workers were limited in their ability to meet face to face with residents due to the danger involved in travelling within the Gaza Strip, and even telephone contacts were often fragmented. They have begun gathering more precise information on the wounding deaths and injuries of many civilians.

The PCHR said the total number of dead as of January 18 was 1,251; of whom 168 were policemen. 292 were children and 97 were women. The PCHR says 179 of those killed were armed militants.