'There Was No Mistaking Us for Anything but Civilians'

Family of Cast Lead victims say woman was shot by the IDF while she was waving a white flag.

Amid expectations that the soldier who fatally shot a mother and daughter during Operation Cast Lead will be indicted, a close family member told Haaretz yesterday that one of the women was waving a white cloth when she was shot by a sniper.

A Bedouin family holding white flags after leaving their house outside the Jabalya refugee camp nort

Gaza residents Riyeh Abu Hajaj, 64, and her daughter, Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, were killed on January 4, 2009.

A shell struck the family's house in a farming area southeast of Gaza City the morning of their deaths, said Yusef Abu Hajaj, Riyeh's son and Majda's older brother. The shell lightly injured another relative and the family decided it made sense to take shelter in their neighbor's house, he said.

"We left for our neighbor Mohammed al-Safadi's house, some 200 meters away," said Yusef Abu Hajaj, 40. "The whole family moved into his house and then at noon, we heard on the loudspeakers and local radio stations the announcements of the army, which took over the broadcasts. The Israeli army called on everyone in the area to leave their homes and move to the city center. That's what we did. We headed to Gaza City.

"There were 27 of us in the group, 17 of them children. There was no mistaking us for anything but civilians. Majda, my sister, held a white cloth in her hand which she kept waving to make clear we were civilians. You must understand this was an open farming area. No more houses, no danger from other houses. We advanced together with Safadi and Majda in front. Some 100 meters away we saw a tank. Majda waved the white cloth but then an Israeli sniper, not from the tank, shot her. We didn't understand what was happening. My mother shouted, 'Majda, Majda,' and then she too was shot and severely injured."

Other eyewitnesses provided the B'Tselem human rights group with similar accounts. The witness accounts indicate that two family members carried Riyeh, but she died a few minutes after being shot. The family members fled back toward the Safadi house and hid there, but had to leave the bodies in the field, according to witnesses.

Yusef Abu Hajaj said it took more than two weeks for rescue teams to reach the area to evacuate the bodies. The bodies were brought to the hospital on January 19 in a state of advanced decomposition.