RAFAH - The man who interrupted Peter Hansen yesterday morning proved a harbinger of things to come. To hell with manners. He didn't allow the UNRWA Commissioner-General to continue his improvised press conference in the courtyard of UNRWA warehouses in Rafah.
UNRWA officials had arrived to coordinate water and food distribution to infants in Tel Sultan, and to pay a visit there and to the Brazil neighborhood. In Brazil, Hansen viewed the destruction and spoke with people who were still rummaging through the debris for clothing, school books, a Koran, kitchen utensils, and other belongings left behind by the bulldozers.
The tanks remained in the background. Contrary to reports that they had left the neighborhood on Friday morning, the tanks had only moved a few dozen meters in the direction of the border road and took up positions behind mounds of sand and debris. In the past two days, intermittent shots were fired from these tanks toward the houses, to which people had begun to return.
Two bursts of fire came around 10 A.M., while Hansen was busy listening to people's complaints. A few seconds elapsed. A few phones and radios bleeped. Message received: A 3-year-old girl, Ruwan Abu Zaid, was badly injured by gunfire. Another message thirty minutes later: Died of her wounds.
Later, the man who interrupted Hansen told the UNWRA official that it is unthinkable that nothing has been done to bury the residents of Tel Sultan killed over the last five days, in contravention of Muslim stipulations for a speedy burial. On the other hand, families asked hospitals not to bury the bodies in their absence. But families couldn't go outside to hold funerals. Between last Tuesday and Friday, the neighborhood's 25,000 residents were under general curfew, with tanks, armored troop carriers, bulldozers and military outposts deployed throughout the area.
On Friday morning, manpower and equipment were concentrated at two entrances to the neighborhood, but bulldozers were still demolishing wide tracts of agricultural land and tanks fired shots at anyone who tried to sneak out. Some 15 members of the grieving families did manage to sneak out, but most remained stranded, wracked by the knowledge that their sons' bodies are still in a cooler used for refrigerating vegetables.
Hansen was surprised to hear of this burial problem: with all the problems UNRWA has dealt with this past week, this one - despite its importance and delicacy - had apparently been shunted aside.
UNRWA officials and some reporters met with unrestrained anger when they entered the neighborhood itself at 2 P.M. in coordination with the IDF, which also granted entry to a 10,000-liter water tanker and a truckload of mineral water and condensed milk for babies. Already from afar, when the motorcade was stopped near a type of APC and a tank (its barrel aimed at a small playground and tiny cement house) and near two bulldozers busily churning up the ground and some water pipes, scores of young men were visible crowding the entrance to the neighborhood, raising their hands in the air, shouting. When the motorcade passed by, most of them looked hospitable, waved hello, smiled.
A few adults scolded kids who tried climbing on the cars. It immediately became clear that the distribution of water bottles and condensed-milk packages at the school would not take place. Ten or more people quickly clambered onto the truck and began throwing its contents down to those gathered below.
When Hansen and the head of UNRWA's Gaza operations, Lionel Brisson, were examining the IDF's damage to the neighborhood, they heard over the radio that someone had lobbed a large stone at the front windshield of another UNRWA car, someone else had thrown another large stone at the back window, and stones had been thrown at the truck as well.
Someone explained that people are angry that no one is arranging for the grieving families to leave the surrounded neighborhood.
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