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Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Sunday, 8 February 2009
Gaza: Out of the Ruins

Jeremy Bowen
Jeremy Bowen travelled through the devastated Gaza region

In December and January, the Gaza Strip was pounded by an Israeli military offensive which lasted for 22 days.

About 1,300 Palestinians - hundreds of them children - died in the violence.

Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict, which Israel said was a war of self-defence, an answer to eight years of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Palestinians in Gaza and Israel's critics abroad have a contrasting view, dubbing the assault an atrocity, a reckless use of force guaranteed to kill civilians.

Now, as Israel prepares to vote in Tuesday's general election, the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen travels through a devastated Gaza to ask what the conflict means for the region's future.

Daughters killed

Interviewing both victims and combatants, he pieces together rival claims about war crimes and the targeting of civilians, and follows extraordinary personal stories across the frontlines.

Missile damage in Sderot
Israeli towns like Sderot are hit by Hamas rocket fire

One of those stories is that of Izzeldeen Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor who was trained in Israel and is a fluent Hebrew speaker.

A Palestinian physician who specialises in treating infertility, he lives in Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, but used to work part-time in Israel helping Jewish women to have babies.

On 16 January, just hours before Israel was to announce a ceasefire, his home was shelled by Israeli forces, resulting in the deaths of three of the physician's daughters - aged 13 to 20 - and a 17-year-old niece.

His loss became known across Israel when the grieving doctor phoned a TV station to describe what had happened.

Responsibility

An Israeli investigation into the attack on Dr Abuelaish's house concluded this week that the girls were killed by Israeli fire.

The army said troops had fired shells at people believed to be Hamas spotters on the roof of Dr Abuelaish's house.

Dr Izeldeen Abuelaish
Dr Izzeldeen Abuelaish shared his grief at losing his daughters

The Israeli Government has apologised for the incident.

However,despite the shells being fired by Israeli forces, Israeli Interior Minister Meir Shittrit tells Bowen that ultimate responsibility for the girls' deaths lays with Hamas, since, he claims, the group were storing weapons by the doctor's house:

"If someone had to be blamed it is the Hamas, because when the Hamas is holding inside a very high density area explosives, missiles, arsenal of weapons, what do you expect us to do?" he asks.

In Gaza: Out of the Ruins, Bowen joins Dr Abuelaish at the ruins of his home and talks to him about how feels about the Middle East conflict in the wake of his children's deaths.

'Feeling like a target'

Bowen also talks to Shaul and Ellen Geffen, Israeli friends of Dr Abuelaish who live a short drive from the Gaza border.

Shaul Geffen tells our reporter about life within range of the Hamas rockets, the "horrible feeling that you are a target" and insists that Israel's attack was necessary, though he wishes it was not.

But Bowen also interviews Abu Hamza, a member of Hamas' military wing the Izzadine al-Qassam Brigades, who dismisses the rocket attacks for the low death toll they result in compared with the numbers killed by Israel's forces.

The Hamas rockets carry only a fraction of Israel's killing power. But targeting civilians violates the laws of war, and the Israeli government says no country in the world would tolerate the attacks.

Abu Hamza tells Bowen that both he and his fellow Izzadine al-Qassam Brigades members want to live in peace - but not without warning that the peace would not last more than a decade or two and that the next generation may yet attack Israel.

Investigation

Bowen meets members of that next Palestinian generation including a young girl called Mona Samouni, who lived on a street called Samouni Street because everyone who lived here was part of the extended Samouni family.

Bowen talking to Mona
Mona tells Bowen of her experience of the conflict

The Israeli forces moved into the street in the first hours of their ground operation. They have now pulled out, but as Bowen finds there are serious questions to be asked about what they did while they were there.

Mona and her brother Hilmi are the only ones left on their side of the family. They say that the others, all civilians, were killed by the Israelis.

Panorama gave detailed questions to the IDF about what happened to the Samouni family.

They did not respond in specific detail but say their forces had come under fire in the area around one of the family's houses.

The IDF says a "terrorist squad" was spotted in the "house yard" and that, in one of the buildings owned by the family, munitions and an explosive device were found.

They also say that their inquiry is still continuing and only partial information was available.

Among those Bowen talks to about the violence which occurred in Samouni Street is 16-year-old Ahmed al-Samouni who was unable to flee the area when he was wounded in an attack that killed his mother and three of his brothers.

Ahmed tells Bowen that along with at least four other children he was left alone with the bodies of those killed for two days, while the International Committee of the Red Cross was denied access to the wounded and dead.

Cycle of violence

Imad Abu Hasira, one of the ICRC's protection field officers who helped with the eventual evacuation of the street told Panorama that he had "never" experienced anything like what happened in Samouni Street before.

His colleague, ICRC Protection Delegate Michael Greub, who also helped evacuate the dead and wounded, told Bowen that under international law when civilians are surrounding soldiers' positions, the troops are responsible for providing first aid and evacuation assistance to the civilians:

"In an occupied area an occupying force is responsible for taking care of the wounded persons in the area, or at least to properly co-ordinate that these people can be evacuated out of the area," he said.

With such reports ratcheting up the level of hatred for Israel among Palestinians, Panorama asks whether the offensive has really weakened the Hamas movement or if the violence has simply sowed the seeds of further bloodshed.

Gaza: Out of the Ruins on Monday 9 February on BBC One at 8.30pm.



SEE ALSO
Your comments: Gaza: Out of the Ruins
Tuesday, 10 February 2009, 14:25 GMT |  Panorama

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