Gaza Family That Lost 29 Relatives Drops Lawsuit Against Israel

Samouni family says Nazareth lawyer filed NIS 851m suit against Israeli leadership without its approval.

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GAZA - A Gaza family that lost 29 relatives to Operation Cast Lead, which also left 45 family members injured and their home destroyed, on Tuesday asked that a lawsuit that had been filed in their name for NIS 851 million be withdrawn. The lawsuit names Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as respondents.

The suit was filed in the Nazareth District Court by attorney Mohammed Fukra on behalf of the Samouni family.

However, family members told Haaretz on Tuesday that they had not signed power of attorney over to Fukra, and that they are being represented by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

In response to a question from Haaretz, the human rights group said it had no connection with Fukra, and that at the family's request it would on Wednesday be initiating action to stop the suit. A relative, Salah Samouni, confirmed that he had been in telephone contact with Fukra and had sent him a fax with details of the deaths of 29 family members and their names. Fukra could not be reached by press time for comment.

The Samouni family live in a number of metal shacks and concrete buildings in Gaza City's Zeitun neighborhood. Most of those injured or killed were hit when two shells fired by Israel Defense Forces on Monday, January 5, hit one of the houses where soldiers had ordered the family to gather.

Masia Samouni, 19, told Haaretz Tuesday night that on Sunday morning, January 4, after the first shell hit her house, the whole family gathered in the stairwell of a concrete house. When the soldiers arrived, they demanded that everyone move to a neighboring house.

Later, the family was once more to yet another house. Masia said that between 90-100 people were crowded in one room from Sunday morning to Monday morning with no food, water or other supplies. At 6 A.M., on Monday, January 5, a few male relatives went to bring an uncle who lived in a shack next to the concrete house. Masia said the men were all shot, and one was killed. A shell then hit the house, and another fell nearby, killing seven more Samouni family members. Masia Samouni's husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law and brother-in-law were all killed, and her baby daughter was injured. Masia and some of her relatives managed to flee, but the more seriously injured remained in the ruins of the house. The Red Cross received the IDF's permission to evacuate them four days later.

Eli Ashkenazi contributed to this report.