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14 May 2008 07:10
Her bed is on the third floor of Gaza’s Shifa hospital, where shafts of warm afternoon sunshine reach in from the window. The ward is crowded, and the bed on which Asma’a Abu Me’tiq lay is curtained off from the rest and surrounded by the blankets her sister-in-law uses when she sleeps on the floor next to her at night.
It may be the best hospital in Gaza but even the poorest families, like the Abu Me’tiqs, must provide extra food themselves.
Asma’a's father, Ahmad, returns from downstairs with a cheap electric hot-plate, which he bought on credit from a shopkeeper he knows.
Then he reaches over to his daughter, who is coughing and struggling to breathe from the deep wound in her chest. She hasn’t touched her food since she was rushed to hospital 10 days earlier: the day an explosion in the street outside demolished the metal front door of their house as the family were eating breakfast, impaling her and her younger sister, Shaima, (seven), with shrapnel and killing outright four other brothers and sisters and her mother too.
“I’m waiting to see you eat,” says her father. “Later,” says Asma’a. Several minutes passed. “Let me see you eat,” he says again. “Tomorrow,” she replies.
As is frequently the case in this most gruelling of conflicts the cause of the explosion that killed the wife and four children of Ahmad Abu Me’tiq is disputed.
Early in the morning of April 28 there was fighting in Beit Hanoun after Israeli troops and armoured vehicles raided the east of the Gaza Strip.
In an air strike the Israeli military fired two missiles into the street outside the Abu Me’tiq’s house, which they said were aimed at four armed men who they said were “carrying backpacks loaded with ammunition and various weaponry”. The Israeli military insists it was a secondary explosion caused by the “weaponry” that killed five members of the Abu Me’tiq family.
“The professional opinion of the IDF [Israel Defence Force] states that the family was hit during the explosion of the second missile that ignited the secondary explosions or from objects that had flown towards them from the strength of the explosion,” it said.
“The IDF wishes to express sorrow for any harm to unassociated civilians caused due to terrorist organisations [which] operate from populated centres, using them as human shields.”
However, the family holds the Israeli military responsible for the killings, as does Israel’s leading human rights group, B’Tselem, which said Israel bears an obligation to distinguish between civilians and those taking part in the fighting. “Whoever fired the original missile bears responsibility for the explosion that led to the deaths of the family members,” it said. “The missile was fired at a militant who was on the doorstep of a densely populated residential compound, knowing he was carrying ammunition.”
Abu Me’tiq (70) said he had received no direct apology from the Israeli military and no offer of compensation for the loss of his wife Meyasar (40) and his children Rudeina (six); Salah (four); Hana (three); and one-year-old Mes’id. Their deaths add to the growing and striking toll of children killed in the conflict in Gaza. This year alone at least 44 Palestinian children have been killed, according to a count at the end of April by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. The UN has put the figure at 53 children dead and 177 children injured so far this year.
Despite talks about a ceasefire the death toll on both sides continues to rise. At least 312 Palestinians, more than half civilians, have been killed this year, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. On the Israeli side six soldiers and six civilians have died, the latest Shuli Katz (70) who was killed on Monday by a rocket fired by Gazan militants into Yesha, a village in southern Israel.
The Abu Me’tiqs live in a simple, single-storey concrete house with only mats and cushions for furniture and a broken radio in the front room. There was no glass on the windows and there were large holes in the corrugated iron and asbestos roof. Several political parties had come to the house promising money and support, and two Hamas posters and a flag flew outside. However Abu Me’tiq said he had received no money, and there seemed no evidence of any financial support for the family. “Just those damn posters,” he said. He could not remember who he voted for in elections two years ago, though he thought it was one of the smaller leftist factions, which now carries little sway in Palestinian politics.
Abu Me’tiq is from a family of Bedouin and was born in a village near Ashdod, in what is now Israel. He fled as a boy with his parents during the 1948 war and lived the simple life of a farmer, never learning to read or write. Now with the Bedouin traditions all but gone in Gaza he has no land and no livestock and relies on UN food handouts and support from his older children, two of whom are married and in their forties. “We are almost dead. We have no money, nothing. We are exhausted,” he said.
Abu Me’tiq was was out collecting medicine from a nearby pharmacy at the time of the missile strike. When he rushed home the ambulances were still retrieving the bodies of his children and he collapsed on the ground in front of them. Since then he has been pressing the Palestinian doctors to send his daughter for treatment in Israel, but they have so far refused saying they can do the necessary surgery in Gaza. “Israel must treat her because they did this thing to us. She’s what’s left of our family,” he said.
His second injured daughter, Shaima, is less seriously hurt, with her right leg in plaster and should recover well, the doctors say. The six other children are staying with one of the older sons, Ibrahim (42). “The children can’t sleep here at night. Even I can’t bear it,” said Abu Me’tiq. “This house is empty. There is nothing for us here.” - guardian.co.uk Â
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