Today, Tuesday, it seemed as though Gaza was beginning to draw a collective breath after the shock of the past three weeks of Israeli bombardments. The streets, previously deserted, filled up again and tens of thousands of people who had fled their homes for fear of Israeli attacks began returning to them. But thousands have no homes to which to return because so many were destroyed by Israeli forces.
In Gaza City’s Zaitoun neighbourhood, where scores of homes were flattened by Israeli air strikes and bulldozers women and children were rummaging through the rubble of their homes, trying to recover the little that could be salvaged.
At a mourning tent amidst the rubble the surviving member of the Sammouni family received condolences and recited prayers for their 29 relatives killed by Israeli forces. Salah Sammouni told us that Israeli soldiers had evicted them from their home, which they then used as a military base, and told them to stay in their relatives’ house across the road, only to bomb it the following day.
Some died on the spot, they said, while others were left to die, as the Israeli army did not allow the ambulances to approach the house to evacuate the wounded for several days.
We then visited the Qishqu and al-Daya families whose homes were both destroyed by Israeli bombardments. ‘Abdallah Qishqu, whose house was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on 28 December, told us that his wife, who was seriously injured in the attack, still does not know that their eight-year-old daughter, Ibtihal, was killed in the explosion together with their daughter-in-law, Maisa.
At the Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, the head of the Burns Unit told us that when the first patients with phosphorus burns were brought in, doctors in the Burns Unit did not realise what had caused the injuries.
“The first thing we noticed were cases with orange burns, different from the burns we are used to dealing with. They started with patches and after a while they would become deeper with an offensive odour and after several hours smoke started coming from the wound,” the doctor said.
“We had a child of three years with a head injury. After three hours we changed the dressing and saw smoke coming out of the wound. We opened the wound and brought out this wedge. We had not seen it before. Later on, some colleagues, doctors from Egypt and Norway, were able to enter Gaza and told us that this was white phosphorus.
“We noticed various things about this: the burn does not heal; the phosphorus may remain inside the body and goes on burning there, and the general condition of the patient deteriorates – normally with 10-15% burns, you would expect a cure, now many such patients die,” he said.
Other doctors from the hospital said they had seen patients with strange injuries that appeared to have been caused by unusual weapons (there is speculation that this may include Deep Inert Metal Explosive – DIME weapons) and which they did not know how to deal with. Patients who should be getting better were getting worse.
“We had eight amputations on one day – normally, the patients should all have lived, but they all died. We don’t understand it,” one doctor told us. One of the surgeons explained that “when foreign bodies are implanted in a body the surgical advice is not to move them, but now they seem to be fragmenting and causing further damage and the patient goes on bleeding or becomes jaundiced. This is something we do not understand and to cure them we must find out what was used to cause the injuries”.
In the coming days, we will report more about some of the cases in the hospital, including the story of an incident when a mother and her five children were killed and some eight others were wounded.