Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Death Toll Soars in Gaza's Rafah Camp, Backbone of the Intifada

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Death Toll Soars in Gaza's Rafah Camp, Backbone of the Intifada

Article excerpt

Death Toll Soars in Gaza's Rafah Camp, Backbone of the Intifada

The killing of four young Palestinians and the wounding of another 70 unarmed civilians the evening of April 1, 1992 in the Rafah refugee camp demonstrates anew how far removed peace seems from the Holy Land. The action by well-trained Israeli border troops, who produced the shocking number of dead and wounded victims by spraying automatic weapons fire into a crowd of unarmed men, women and children, was no aberration for this camp. Since the start of the intifada, Israeli Defense Forces, including undercover "death squad" units, have employed lethal gunfire many times against the nearly 100,000 Palestinians residing in Rafah, and especially against the more than 50,000 in its huge refugee camp.

This most recent "April Fool's Massacre" in Rafah, which took place on the eve of Eid al Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is only one of several large-scale bloodlettings perpetrated against the civilian population of this border town in the occupied Gaza Strip. It also is the third massacre in the past four years to occur in a Gaza refugee camp on or around the Islamic holiday.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has recorded throughout the uprising the nature and level of casualties among the refugee population in Palestine. For reasons that are unclear, the people of Rafah have endured nearly twice as many gunfire injuries, particularly from live ammunition, as the inhabitants of any other refugee camp of equal or greater size in Gaza. Nearly 100 of Rafah's residents have been shot dead by IDF troops over the past four and a half years.

From the beginning of the intifada to the end of January 1992, UNRWA recorded 2,524 Rafah refugees injured by live IDF gunfire. The second highest toll was at near-by Khan Younis camp, whose nearly 40,000 residents have suffered 1,203 live ammunition injuries. At Gaza's Jebaliya camp, the largest refugee camp in occupied Palestine, residents have suffered 1,283 gunfire injuries so far in the uprising.

"The army is more aggressive with the people here because we are stuck at the end of the world," explains Khalid, an UNRWA employee and resident of the Shaboura quarter of Rafah camp. "Journalists seldom come to the Gaza Strip and, if they do, it is almost always to Gaza City and the north. The soldiers can deal with us as they like, and that means they can shoot anyone anytime for any reason."

"We are stuck at the end of the world."

The April Fool's Day massacre is, in fact, the seventh such tragedy in Rafah since the uprising began in December 1987. Every resident vividly recalls each of the other six:

* On April 16, 1988, the day after Israel's assassination of PLO leader Khalil Al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunis, three were killed and dozens more were injured in Rafah as IDF forces killed a total of 13 Palestinians throughout the occupied territories that day.

* On May 19, 1989, the IDF shot five Palestinians dead and injured 16 others in the Shaboura quarter of Rafah camp.

* On June 16, 1989, three Palestinians were killed and 40 injured by gunfire in clashes outside a mosque.

* On July 8, 1989, three youths were fatally wounded by gunfire in clashes with Israeli troops in the camp.

* On Dec. 29, 1990, four Palestinians were killed and 590 injured (170 by live ammunition) in clashes after an Israeli undercover unit ambushed two masked youths writing on walls in Shaboura. …

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