MIDEAST: Children Found Starving

By Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Jan 8 (IPS) - An international chorus of condemnation has 
blasted Israel over its human rights abuses in Gaza. Operation Cast 
Lead, into its 12th day, has now claimed the lives of over 700 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) demanded safe 
access Thursday for ICRC officials and Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) 
ambulances to evacuate the wounded. It accused Israel of deliberately 
delaying ambulances.

Rescue teams made several attempts to rescue the wounded and retrieve 
bodies in several areas of Gaza city but were refused entry by Israel 
Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers.

On Wednesday, however, after a week's intensive negotiations with 
Israeli officials, ICRC officials and PRC ambulance teams managed to 
reach some of the survivors in Gaza's Zeitoun neighbourhood.

The ICRC reported finding four starving toddlers next to the bodies 
of their dead mothers in one of the houses. The children were 
apparently too weak to stand. One man was found barely alive. Twelve 
bodies were found laid out on mattresses in the same house.

Fifteen survivors were rescued from another house by the ICRC. Three 
bodies were found in an adjacent house. The rescue teams kept looking 
for survivors despite orders by Israeli soldiers that they leave.

"This is shocking," Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for 
Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories told IPS. "The 
Israeli military must have been aware of the situation, but did not 
assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the 
PRC to assist the wounded."

The ICRC said it believed Israel had breached international humanitarian law.

Amnesty International accused the IDF and Palestinian gunmen 
Wednesday of using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

"Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and 
taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families 
to stay in a ground-floor room while they use the rest of their house 
as a military base and sniper position," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty 
International's Middle East and North Africa programme director.

"This clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families 
concerned, and means they are effectively being used as human 
shields," he said.

While Palestinian gunmen have also used civilian homes as bases to 
attack Israeli forces, the IDF has adopted this tactic for many 
years. It is standard IDF policy throughout the occupied West Bank to 
use Palestinian homes as bases, while confining families to single 

Israeli soldiers have been filmed forcing Palestinian youngsters to 
walk in front of army jeeps or to enter a home they fear is 
booby-trapped or has gunmen inside, before the soldiers follow 

Amnesty International also slammed Israel's decision to establish a 
daily ceasefire of only three hours, saying it was insufficient to 
tackle the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

"A truce that lasts for a few hours a day is simply insufficient. 
It's too short to address the urgent and massive needs of the 
civilians who are caught in the hostilities and suffering heavy 
casualties," said Curt Goering, Amnesty's senior deputy executive 
director for the U.S.

"Israel has severely blockaded aid for nearly all of 2008. The 
Israeli military can't let aid in for three hours and pretend that is 
sufficient. Nor would a daily brief 'recess' guarantee the safety of 
humanitarian workers," Goering noted.

Meanwhile, the UN has demanded that Israel provide evidence for its 
claims that Palestinian gunmen fired on Israeli forces from a UN 
school compound in northern Gaza before an Israeli artillery attack 
that killed more than 40 Palestinian civilians there.

The UN has categorically denied that any armed men were in the school 
at the time.

"We have nothing to hide," UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) 
spokesman Chris Gunness told CNN Wednesday. "Bring it on. We want to 
see the evidence. We want to clear any suspicion."

About 14,000 Palestinians have been sheltered by UNRWA schools. The 
UN also stated that prior to Israel's current military incursion into 
Gaza it had provided Israel with the GPS coordinates of all UN 
installations in Gaza.

Several years ago Israel caused an international furore when it 
accused UNRWA ambulances of transporting gunmen in its ambulances. 
The IDF claimed to have satellite pictures of 'gunmen' loading 
'rockets' into the back of an ambulance.

A subsequent investigation established that the 'rocket' was a 
stretcher and the 'gunmen' medics. UNRWA demanded an apology, and 
never got one.

Following the outbreak in 2000 of the second Palestinian uprising, or 
Intifadah, Israel accused the ICRC of transporting a suicide bomber 
with an explosives belt around his waist in one of its ambulances. 
The ICRC strongly denied the claim, and demanded evidence. None has 
been provided.

Meanwhile, another confrontation could be brewing off Gaza's coast as 
an international boat carrying humanitarian relief, human rights 
activists, journalists and politicians prepared to breach Israel's 
naval blockade of Gaza.

Several previous boats made the journey successfully, but during the 
last attempt the boat Dignity was rammed by Israeli naval vessels and 
forced at gunpoint to head to Beirut as the damaged vessel took on 

Those on board included U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and a 
CNN news crew which filmed the incident.