Update: Bethlehem, 9 March, 6 p.m.
Despite mounting international criticism, Sharon’s government seems determined to inflict maximum losses and damages on the Palestinian refugee camps and the Palestinian people, before it will be compelled to halt its military assault – most likely no more than temporarily – next week, when US envoy General Anthony Zinni will revisit the region.
Fifty hours after the military incursion into the Bethlehem district, Israeli armed forces have shot and killed nine Palestinians, all except two residents of the local refugee camps of Aida, Azza, and Deheishe. Among the dead are a 14-year old girl and a 32-year old woman shot in their homes, and a pharmacists, director of the Yamama hospital in Bethlehem (see list of names and details below). The number of Palestinians injured in the Bethlehem area has reached more than 30.
In the night of 8 to 9 March, residents of Bethlehem witnessed for the first time the use of surface-to-surface missiles by the Israeli army. Three of these missiles were shot from Israeli tanks, and hit and caused substantive damage to St. Josheph’s Girl School, a private home next to the school, and the premises of Bethlehem university.
Throughout the day, the Israeli soldiers continued house-to-house searches in the refugee camps of Aida and Azza, causing more damage to civilian homes and properties. No arrests have been reported, no weapon-stores or –factories were discovered.
At noon, Palestinian refugees of the Aida and Deheishe camps defied the Israeli-imposed curfew and laid four of their dead to rest in the martyr’s cemetery at Irtas village. While some 4,000 mourners proceeded from Beit Jala’s King Hussein Hospital via the Deheishe refugee camp to the graveyard, the Israeli army took-up position in a yet unfinished hotel building overlooking the camp. By the evening hours of 9 March, Deheishe refugee camp is encircled by Israeli tanks from four sides, and tension is mounting as a night-time military assault on the purely civilian population in the camp appears imminent.
Israel’s war on the Palestinian people in the Bethlehem district has followed a pattern similar to the assaults on Balata refugee camp (Nablus) and the town and refugee camps of Tulkarem. The yet unexplained and tragic circumstances of the killing of hospital director Dr. Ahmad Na’man, shooting at ambulances, and massive damages to civilian properties have been accompanied by the willful destruction of communal infrastructure. In Bethlehem, Israeli army bulldozers have torn-up main streets, piled-up rocks and sand on the main Bethlehem-Deheishe-Hebron road, and destroyed one of the main water pipes carrying water for the whole Bethlehem district.
Given the massive scale of obstruction of medical emergency services and the serious damages caused to civilian property and infrastructure during the current Israeli military assaults on the refugee camps and towns of the northern and southern West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, BADIL Resource Center calls upon international human rights organizations to form an independent expert commission to investigate Israel’s violations of the protection rights of the civilian Palestinian population. Such an expert commission should also investigate the Israeli allegation that Palestinian ambulances are commonly abused for the transport of arms and “wanted” persons.
Palestinian’s killed during Israel’s military assault on the Bethlehem district:
Suleiman Al-Dibbs (37), Aida refugee camp, 8-3-2002;
Ibrahim Al-‘Araj (24), Aida refugee camp, 8-3-2002;
Sa’ed S’oud ‘Id (17), Deheishe refugee camp, 8-3-2002;
Dr. Ahmad Na’man al-Khoudari(38), al-Khader village, 8-3-2002 (killed by Israeli sniper fire shot from a tank, despite the fact that he had obtained clearance, via the Red Cross, from the Israeli army command to pass with his car, in order to fetch urgently required medical staff and drugs for his hospital).
Huda Al-Khawajeh (32), Aida refugee camp, 8-3-2002. (mother of six children, killed by shrapnel while working in her kitchen.)
Issa Faraj (23), Deheishe refugee camp, 8-3-2002;
Jad Atallah (24) Deheishe refugee camp, 8-3-2002;
Imad Al-Soufi, resident of Gaza, member of the Palestinian National Security Forces; died on 9-3-2002 from injuries sustained yesterday in Aida camp;
Nida’ Al-Azza (14), Azza refugee camp, 9-3-2002 (shot in her chest by live ammunition next to her home).