Four out of every five Palestinians killed during Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza have been civilians, including dozens of women and children, the United Nations said Monday.
The statistic was disclosed by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) amid mounting international concern over non-combatant casualties during an operation Israeli officials have said is aimed solely at rooting out militants and stopping rockets being fired into Israel.
Pressure intensified for a ceasefire as the latest death toll climbed to 172.
Of 160 deaths that had occurred by Sunday, 133 — 80 per cent — had been among Gaza’s civilian population, OCHA said, including 35 children and 27 women. Only 26 were established to have belonged to “armed groups” while the status of another nine men was unverified. Some 296 children and 233 women have been among the 1,140 wounded, according to Gaza health ministry figures.
OCHA said its statistics had been checked and verified through a variety of sources.
The figures appeared to show a higher non-combatant casualty rate than that recorded in Israel’s eight-day offensive against Gaza in November 2012, when 108 civilians were said to be among the 167 Palestinians killed.
Maria Jose Torres, the deputy head of OCHA’s office for the Palestinian territories, said: “The high toll for civilians is a big concern for the humanitarian community. As humanitarians we are appealing to the parties to refrain from killing and injuring civilians as well a from putting civilians at risk.”
Human rights groups have partly attributed the Palestinian death toll to Israel’s targeting of houses and buildings it says are being used by Hamas and other groups but that are also dwelling places for relations with no known militant links. Some 940 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in missile or bomb strikes.
In one particularly graphic case, two severely handicapped women were killed on Saturday when a missile struck their disabled care home. Two suspected militants who lived in flats upstairs were away at the time.
The women’s disabilities prevented them from responding to warnings.
Israel says it is responding to missile attacks launched by Hamas and other groups that it accuses of firing indiscriminately at its civilian population. No Israelis have been killed so far by Hamas’ rocket attacks, although nearly 1,000 have been launched in the past week, according to the Israeli military.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has also accused Hamas of using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields by stationing missile sites in built-up areas of the densely populated territory.
However, Israel’s tactic of hitting domestic residences came under further scrutiny after three missiles destroyed the home of the director general of Gaza City’s main medical facility, Shiffa Hospital. Dr Nasser al-Tater, 59, a specialist cardiologist, said he had spent days working and sleeping at the hospital to oversee its emergency response to the conflict before returning home on Sunday evening.
Within minutes, his son received a phone call from an Israeli military officer telling the family to evacuate within 10 minutes. Three rockets subsequently destroyed the house — along with Dr al-Tatar’s private practice clinic — in Gaza City’s Beach Refugee camp. “I have no idea why they did this,” said Dr al-Tatar.
The White House last night said it did not want to see an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip “because that would put even more civilians at risk”.
Hamas drone shot down
Israel shot down a drone that flew out of Gaza yesterday (Monday) as Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the territory, claimed it had developed three versions of the unmanned craft to carry out special missions.
The drone was intercepted by US-made Patriot missiles as it hovered above the coastline of the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, about 15 miles north of Gaza, in what represented a new development in the latest bloody clash between the two sides. The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, later said its engineers had developed three variants of a drone known as the Ababil 1 to conduct surveillance, military and “suicide” missions.
“The drones executed specific missions over the Israeli war ministry [an apparent reference to the Israeli defence ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, known as the Kirya],” the group said in a statement. “The drones executed three missions over Israeli military bases.” The claims were impossible to verify but appeared to be part of a package of “surprises” Hamas had promised in its latest military confrontation with Israel. It may also have been part of a psychological tussle between the two sides as the Islamist movement attempts to counter Israel’s overwhelming technical superiority. Israeli drones have been an ever-present part of the present conflict, which entered its seventh day yesterday.