by Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
07 Jan 2009
Mohammed Shaheen, a volunteer with Palestinian Red Crescent, was in the first convoy of ambulances to reach the site of the blast in Zeitoun since it was first occupied then shelled by the Israeli army.
His testimony confirmed accounts, first reported in The Telegraph, from survivors of the extended al Samouni clan who said they feared between 60 and 70 family members had been killed.
"Inside the Samouni house I saw about ten bodies and outside another sixty. I was not able to count them accurately because there was not much time and we were looking for wounded people. We found fifteen people still alive but injured so we took them in the ambulances. I could see an Israeli army bulldozer knocking down houses nearby but we ran out of time and the Israeli soldiers started shooting at us. We had to leave about eight injured people behind because we could not get to them and it was no longer safe for us to stay.''
Mr Shaheen was in a convoy led by a jeep from the International Committee of the Red Cross that made its way down war-damaged tracks past demolished houses to the town of Zeitoun.
Concerns had been growing that Zeitoun had witnessed massive civilian casualties after surviving members of the Samouni clan reached Gaza City three days ago. They said that after the Israeli army first took the town on Saturday night soldiers had ordered about 100 members of the clan to gather in a single house owned by Wael Samouni around dawn on Sunday.
At 6.35am on Monday the house was repeatedly shelled with appalling loss of civilian life. A handful of survivors, some wounded, others carrying dead or dying infants, made it on foot to Gaza's main north-south road before they were given lifts to hospital. Three small children were buried in Gaza City that afternoon.
According to the survivors between 60 and 70 family members had been killed by shrapnel and falling masonry. Convoys of ambulances twice headed to the area to look for wounded but they were driven back by Israeli shooting.
During today's three hour lull in offensive operations by Israel, the ICRC led the rescue convoy in although it took a long time for the convoy to make its way down war-damaged. According to Mr Shaheen, the death toll was as high as described by the survivors.--MORE--"