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Amnesty International Operation Cast Lead 22 Days of Death Destruction

Amnesty International Operation Cast Lead 22 Days of Death Destruction

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Published by Abdullah AlBayyari

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Published by: Abdullah AlBayyari on Jul 06, 2011
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07/08/2011

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Clearly marked ambulances with flashing emergency lights and paramedics wearing
recognizable fluorescent vests were repeatedly fired upon as they attempted to rescue the
wounded and collect the dead. Such attacks intensified after Israeli ground forces took
positions inside Gaza on 3 January 2009. Palestinian ambulance crews tried as best they
could to reach as many of the wounded and the dead as possible. They and the international
volunteers who accompanied some of the ambulance crews risked their lives every day to
carry out their mission.

Israel/Gaza: Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction

Index: MDE 15/015/2009

Amnesty International July 2009

41

Three paramedics – Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were
killed in the early afternoon of 4 January in Gaza City as they walked towards two wounded
men. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was showing them where the
wounded men were, was killed in the same strike. Yahia Hassan, the driver of one of the
ambulances, told Amnesty International:

“It was about 3-3.30pm. We were called to pick up some injured men in an orchard near a
house in the Dahdouh area in the south of Tal al-Hawa (Gaza City). We parked the two
ambulances next to a house, left the lights flashing and me and the other driver waited by
the ambulances while Anas, Yaser and Raf’at went to pick up the injured. A child was on the
dirt road indicating to them where the injured men were lying. As our three colleagues got
near the child, a missile hit and then another. They were all killed, our three colleagues and
the child; pieces of their bodies flew about. Then missiles were fired near the ambulances
and we could not go to pick up their bodies and had to drive away without them; we had to
leave our dead colleagues behind. As we left more missiles or shells were fired towards our
ambulances
.”

Yahia Hassan and Hazem al-Barrawi with fragments of the missiles which killed their colleagues and the remains of their

stretchers © AI

Ambulance driver Hazem al-Barrawi said: “As I drove away from the area my ambulance got
stuck in the sand and again came under fire. I left the ambulance there and got into the
other ambulance, with Yahia Hassan, and as we were driving away the shelling continued
towards our ambulance
.

Israel/Gaza: Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction

Index: MDE 15/015/2009

Amnesty International July 2009

42

The mother of Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e told Amnesty International: “After [the missile strike]
we could not go near to where his body lay. The day after I crawled to the place and I found
my child’s body with no legs and I carried him to an ambulance a long way away because
nobody could come near there. No ambulance could come to pick up the bodies; the
ambulances that tried were fired at. After two days an ambulance finally came, accompanied
by a foreign woman, and they took the bodies.”

At the spot where the paramedics and the child were killed, Amnesty International delegates
found pieces of the paramedics’ fluorescent vests strewn on the ground and stuck on trees,
and remnants of at least two Hellfire missiles, which are usually launched from helicopters.
The label read “guided missile, surface attack” and the USA is cited as the weapon’s country
of origin.68

On 4 January, another ambulance crew was attacked in Beit Lahia, in the north of Gaza. In
mid-morning the ambulance had answered a call to rescue several young men, some injured
and some dead, who were in Abu ‘Obeida Street after an Israeli strike. The ambulance was
staffed by driver Khaled Yousef Abu Sa’ada, 43, and two paramedics, 26-year-old Ala’
Usama Sarhan and 34-year-old Arafa Hani ‘Abd al-Dayem, a father of four and a science
teacher by profession, who had been volunteering with the emergency services for eight years.
Driver Khaled Yousef Abu Sa’ada told Amnesty International: “We came about 15 minutes
after the missile strike. None of those lying in the road had any weapon; they were just
civilians, all young men; their bodies were scattered, not together. The paramedics picked up
the first injured man and put him in the ambulance; then they picked up a second man and
were transferring him from the stretcher to the ambulance when the shell hit the ambulance.
Arafa fell, badly injured and the patient had his head and legs blown off.”

The head of the tank shell went straight
through the ambulance and lodged in
the engine. The shell was a flechette
shell, which, on explosion, fired several
thousand small but deadly metal darts
over a large area. The two paramedics,
Arafa and Ala’, were both seriously
wounded and Arafa died later that day.
The driver was injured in the back of his
head. The wall of the shop beside where
the ambulance had been hit was full of
flechettes.

Khaled Yousef Abu Sa’ada with the ambulance hit by a

flechette shell which killed Arafa Hani 'Abd al-Dayem ©

AI

Israel/Gaza: Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction

Index: MDE 15/015/2009

Amnesty International July 2009

43

Dr ‘Issa ‘Abd al-Rahim Saleh, a 32-year-old doctor, was killed on 12 January while
attempting to rescue three residents of al-Banna Tower, a six-storey apartment building in a
narrow street off Zarqa Street in Jabalia, northern Gaza. The building had been shelled at
4.10pm, killing a woman and gravely injuring her sister and a neighbour. Ambulances from
several services arrived at the building shortly after, including the civil defence, the military
medical services and the PRCS. Dr Saleh and a paramedic, Ahmad Abdel Bari Abu Foul,
went up the stairs, both wearing red fluorescent medical jackets. They found two dead
women, Ferial and Ayat Kamal al-Banna, and a wounded man, Mustapha Jum’a al-Basha.
They placed him on the stretcher and began to descend the stairs. The stairs of the buildings
were well lit by a window running down the length of the building. A shell or missile struck Dr
Saleh, cutting off his head, which fell on paramedic Ahmad Abu Foul, who was a few steps
below holding the other end of the stretcher. He was injured by shrapnel from the shell. The
wounded man on the stretcher was killed.

“Situation Assessment. Rules of Engagement: Open fire also upon rescue” was handwritten
on a note left by a soldier in a house taken over by Israeli forces during Operation “Cast
Lead”.69

The Israeli army media briefing of 22 April, in the section on “incidents involving shooting at
medical facilities, buildings, vehicles, and crews”
, contends that “Hamas systematically used
medical facilities, vehicles and uniforms as cover for terrorist operations”,
but provides no
evidence for even one such case. Amnesty International does not exclude the possibility that
such cases may have occurred, but found no evidence during its on-the-ground investigation
that such practices, if they did occur, were widespread. The army briefing asserts that its
investigations “showed the IDF forces at all levels were directed to take extra caution to avoid
harming medical crews and facilities, and in many cases ceased to operate when there was a
medical vehicle or medical staff present in their area of operation”
. Crucially, the army failed
to provide any information or explanation of the many cases, such as those in this report, of
ambulance crew members killed and injured by IDF fire. The briefing also does not provide
any explanation for the many cases where Israeli soldiers deliberately blocked medical
assistance to the wounded and prevented the removal of bodies.

The evidence indicates that attacks on ambulance crews and others who were attempting to
evacuate the wounded were deliberate and recurred throughout Operation “Cast Lead” and
throughout the Gaza Strip. As such these attacks violated international humanitarian law,
which, in addition to prohibiting the targeting of civilians in general, affords special
protection to the sick and wounded and to medical personnel and facilities. More
specifically, intentionally directing attacks against medical units and transport, and
personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions is a war crime.

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