The View From Rafah

The first shell was fired between 2:30 and 3:00 P.M. last Thursday, October 17. It hit a small grocery belonging to Said Abu Obayid, 47, and killed him. The second shell - or perhaps the same one - killed a would-be customer who had come to buy something from the market. This was Iman al Rul, 25. The grocery is located in the Rafah refugee camp's "O" block, a distance of some 500 meters from the Egyptian border.

Over the last two years, Israel Defense Forces troops have demolished all of the houses that were located in a 70-meter strip along the border. Al Rul lived in a house there; it was demolished eight months ago.

Last Thursday afternoon, some 15 armored IDF vehicles traveled back and forth along this border area. Since last Tuesday, an IDF unit has held the border area which abuts the army's Termit base and the Rafah camp (some 50,000 residents live in this very small area). Residents in Rafah believe the IDF has been at work setting up a new base in the area, or a watchtower. Others speculate that the IDF operations have been carried out to repair the Termit base, which was damaged by bombs planted by Hamas. On this theory, the IDF put up a protective wall around the area to protect workers as they repair Termit.

Whatever the army's purpose, the army has supplemented its work on the protective wall by firing shots periodically, to prevent armed Palestinians from approaching the site, refugee camp residents report.

Last Wednesday, IDF work at the border area began at 11 A.M. Armed Palestinians fired at the IDF men. Gunfire clashes ensued. Around 4 P.M., Ahmad Asfour, 53, was killed while purchasing a gold bracelet as a wedding gift for his daughter. Asfour died at a jewelry store on Saladin Street, half a kilometer from the border. Fifteen people were injured in the shooting; these included two children who had attended afternoon classes at a school located a kilometer from the store.

A huge explosion

Last Thursday afternoon, the large army vehicles made the neighborhood shake. IDF warning fire wounded two people, Palestinian human rights workers reported. After the pair was wounded, a huge explosion went off; Palestinian sources told Ha'aretz that members of the Abu Rish group, whose limited members are associated with Fatah, fired a makeshift missile at IDF soldiers.

The sources added that an IDF tank was positioned about 400 meters from Abu Obayid's grocery; a few minutes after the Palestinians launched the missile, the tank began to shell the area as a reprisal, the sources said.

One of Abu Obayid's young sons, who was in the store at the time, was wounded in his hand. At Abu Obayid's apartment, located behind the grocery, one of the sons quickly told his siblings to take cover under a staircase. This son was wounded in the leg.

Abu Yusef, 35, Abu Obayid's neighbor, was standing in a nearby alley, about three meters from the market's owner, when the first shell landed. On Friday, he said he watched Abu Obayid and al Rul die. Abu Yusef sustained injuries in his right hand; his daughter, who was also in the area, was injured too. Due to the heavy gunfire, Abu Yusef was unable to leave the alley, and get to an ambulance.

Meantime a second shell hit a house across from Abu Obayid's market. This home belonged to the Abu Smallah family: Kamal and Vadim Abu Smallah had just finished lunch and had gone to rest with their five children. The couple rushed with their children toward an apartment on the other side of the house, where Kamal's brother lives. This part of the house is covered by a concrete roof. The distance between Kamal's apartment and his brother's is four meters.

Sima'a Abu Smallah, 9, woke up confused, and started to run behind the others, and headed toward her uncle's house. Her father saw her reach a spot just a few meters from his brother's apartment. The second, or third, shell hit the girl and landed between the two apartments. Her father saw blood where his daughter had stood. He was hurt by shrapnel as he ran toward his daughter.

"Had Palestinians been firing between our houses, right next to us, would we have sent our children to rest in our apartment, under an asbestos roof," the father later asked, his eyes full of tears. "Did the soldiers who shelled this area not know that children lived in it?"

The second, or third, shell landed 40 meters from Abu Obayid's store. It killed Salmah Abu Jezar, 72, and her niece, Samirah, 40.

At this time, Muhammad Abu Hilal, 15, was walking on the camp's "main" street. The high school student had a cardiac disorder and had undergone open heart surgery three times in Israel. He was also killed by the shell.

Some 50 Palestinians were injured by the IDF shellings and gunfire; five were listed in serious condition.