Hundreds Left Homeless, Dozens Dead After Israeli Army's Attack in Rafah

MSF calls for an end to firing on civilians and the widespread demolition of homes, and demands unhindered access to provide relief

New York/Gaza City, May 21, 2004 - More than 200 families - 1,400 people - have been made homeless and are seeking refuge in schools, mosques and the sports stadium in Rafah, Gaza Strip, according to the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Since mid-May the Israeli army has deliberately destroyed several hundred civilian homes and made thousands of people homeless. As of Friday May 14, some 20 homes had been razed to the ground. By the end of the weekend the number increased to 100. The incursion has left dozens of civilians dead or injured. People often don't have time to flee their homes and those who manage to escape have been fired on. Aid organizations have been urged to intervene because people still in the area fear being buried alive.

While visiting Abu Juseth el Najar Hospital in Rafah on Wednesday May 19, the MSF team counted 60 wounded and 29 dead civilians - mainly women, children and elderly - who were shot while taking part in a demonstration. People who had gathered to pray were victims as well. "Almost all of them had been shot in the back," said Dr. Nassera Butin, MSF's medical coordinator. Ambulances have also been fired at, and only 20 of the wounded have been able to be transferred to the Rafah's two better-equipped hospitals.

On May 20, two MSF doctors helped triage and treat patients at Najar Hospital, where 60 new wounded - well beyond the hospital's capacity - had been admitted. To ease the strain on the Accident and Emergency ward, the least critical cases were referred to a nearby health center and even local garages and shops. MSF provided the health center with basic medical materials like anesthetics, antibiotics, compresses, and bandages. MSF's two psychologists have been working with groups of pupils in schools and meeting with people on the streets. Yesterday, the water supply was re-connected for only three hours and local people were not able to re-stock their reserves or to go out for more supplies. There is a serious lack of access to potable water.

Our teams have experienced enormous obstacles in reaching health centers or parts of Rafah that were safe until they suddenly came under attack. There is hardly any coordination among the Israeli military authorities on the ground, and our teams, who are officially authorized to travel, have had guns pointed at them and their path blocked by tanks. Our own volunteers, as well as those from other humanitarian agencies, run significant risks. Even the streets around the hospital are not safe, as stray bullets have hit the tents put up by MSF to treat the wounded.

MSF has been working in Rafah for four years providing medical, psychological and social assistance to people who have been traumatized by the constant violence.