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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Relentless raids leave Gaza reeling
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Um al-Nasr, Gaza

Child's funeral in Gaza
More than 200 Palestinians in army raids have died since June
In a village in southern Gaza, an old Palestinian woman stood surveying the wreckage of her life, and her home - bulldozed by the Israeli army.

Subhiya Mouamr pointed out her family's store of flour strewn in the rubble, and the tent she now lives in.

"We sit here - between the earth and the sky - and we survive just on what the Red Cross brings us," Subhiya Mouamr said.

"They destroyed everything."

But on that night when the Israelis came late last week, Subhiya Mouamr lost even more than her home and all that she owned.

She also lost her son and her daughter-in-law.

What happened in the village of Um al-Nasr is typical of the nature of the Israeli offensive in Gaza - which is now going into its fourth month.

Suffering

Israeli soldiers had crossed the border and come hunting for Palestinian militants.

I sat with the body of my daughter-in-law with my head in my hands until the early morning
Subhiya Mouamr
But in the course of their raid they inflicted much suffering on many civilians.

The army says that it went in to Um al-Nasr to capture what it calls terrorists.

A spokesman says that the troops came under fire from two buildings, and that they were consequently demolished.

It is the army's policy to destroy structures from which it says it is attacked.

The villagers say that about a dozen families in this poverty-stricken community were crammed into those buildings - and you find them now camped in the ruins.

Screaming at night

When the villagers gathered under a guava tree to tell their story, Subhiya Mouamr's son, Riziq sat among them.

He has a mental disability, and he does not hear or speak well.

Locator map
His relatives say that the first they knew of the Israeli raid was the sound of Riziq screaming in the night.

His sister, Leila thought that a fight had broken out with the neighbours.

She said she rushed out to find Riziq being beaten by soldiers. Above his blackened eye a large plaster still covers a wound.

His family believes that Riziq may have lashed out at the troops.

"I asked them what they wanted with him - saying that he's sick," said Leila. "They told me to shut up."

Gunned down

Then Leila said the soldiers opened fire on two other relatives racing to the scene.

One of them was Mohammad Mouamr. He was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades militant group, and he came with a gun.

Destroyed house in Gaza
The effect of the raids could be felt for generations
With Mohammad was Riziq's wife, Itemad. Both were killed.

"I sat with the body of my daughter-in-law with my head in my hands until the early morning," said Subhiya Mouamr.

The army launched its offensive late in June partly in an effort to free a captured soldier.

In return for his release, Gazan militants are demanding the freeing of some of the several thousand Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.

The army is also trying to stop the firing of crudely-made rockets from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns by groups like Islamic Jihad.

Uneven conflict

Militants often say that their attacks are in response to the army's actions - which include almost daily raids, arrests and killings in Israeli occupied Palestinian territory.

The militants also regard Israel itself as lying on stolen Palestinian land, and they talk of - ultimately - seeking its destruction.

The confrontation is very uneven. In the past three months the army has killed well over 200 Palestinians - many of them civilians.

On the Israeli side, two soldiers have died - one of them shot accidentally by his comrades.

In the raid on Um al-Nasr village, the army seized a number of people, and two are still being held.

The raid took a matter of hours. But those living now in their tents in the ruins will remember - perhaps for generations - what the soldiers did that night.




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