Deputy Foreign Minister Abd Allah Abd Allah appealed to the European Union to "act now, not tomorrow, to stop this massacre".

He said: "Europe and NATO went to war a few years ago to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Israel is now carrying out a systematic rampage of murder and terror in Gaza before the eyes of the world.

"If the international community doesn’t act now to stop this genocide, the result would be much worse than what happened in Kosovo."

Abd Allah described international reactions to "these pornographic acts of murder and terror in Gaza" as completely inadequate.

"I want to tell our European colleagues that our children and women are being attacked by Apache helicopters and their bodies are burned and dismembered beyond recognition," he said.

He also accused the United states of "colluding with Israel" by acquiescing to these daily crimes.

Atrocities

"The Americans know quite well what Israel is doing in Rafah. The fact that they don’t even condemn these atrocities suggests that the Bush Administration is a culprit in these crimes. We have to call the spade a spade, especially when we find it in the hands of our grave-diggers."

The Israeli attacks on Rafah have
killed dozens since Tuesday

Abd Allah’s impassioned appeal came less than an hour after two Israeli helicopter gunships attacked a peaceful Palestinian march in Rafah on Wednesday, killing around 23 demonstrators, many of them children.

TV footage showed some children and boys with their heads almost decapitated as a result of the aerial bombing. Palestinian officials described the attack as a "Nazi-like massacre".

Rafah Mayor Said Zurub said: "This is a Gestapo-like massacre. It is deliberate, intentional, and premeditated. These helicopters are state-of-the art American technology.

"They could see the smallest object. The pilots knew they were slaughtering children and women."

Sources in Rafah told Aljazeera.net that the march, which included several thousand-school children and many women, was hit by rockets as well as high-velocity machinegun fire from Israeli tanks in the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood.

Ahmad Najjar, 18, who took part in the demonstration, gave Aljazeera.net a harrowing account.

Insufficient beds

"What can I tell you? It is a massacre, a real massacre. It is like what Hitler was doing to the Jews. They are doing the same to us," he said, gasping for breath.

Zurub told Aljazeera.net the Israeli army was "hell-bent on killing as many Palestinians as the international political atmosphere would allow".

The international community has
condemned the Rafah operation

His remarks echoed reports published by the Hebrew press on Wednesday indicating that Israeli soldiers had been instructed to "carry out maximum killings of Palestinians".

Medical sources in Rafah have voiced fears that many of the seriously injured would succumb to their wounds as a result of insufficient medical care.

"We are a small community hospital with only 40 beds serving as many as 14,000 citizens. We are not equipped to deal with a situation of massacres and numerous casualties," said Ali Musa, Director of the Rafah Hospital.

He said he feared the number of fatalities would rise significantly if the Israeli army continued to bar ambulances from transferring the seriously wounded to better equipped hospitals in Gaza City, 30km to the north.

On Monday, the Israeli army surrounded Rafah, isolating the city from the rest of the world.

Extermination

Moreover, Israeli army bulldozers piled huge sand ramparts across the main road to Gaza, making it impossible for ambulances to leave the city.

Palestinian health officials in Rafah said the Israeli measure was aimed at causing many more Palestinians to die.

"We are a small community hospital with only 40 beds serving as many as 14,000 citizens. We are not equipped to deal with a situation of massacres and numerous casualties"

Ali Musa,
Director of the Rafah Hospital

The Israeli government said the purpose of the bloody rampage in Rafah was to locate and destroy tunnels used by Palestinian resistance fighters to smuggle weapons from Egypt.

However, Palestinians scoff at the claim, calling it a "cheap lie".

"Tal al-Sultan is in the north of Rafah, it is several kilometres from the Egyptian borders. It is just inconceivable that tunnels would be dug in this area," said Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian journalist who lives near Tal al-Sultan.

"They have been wreaking death and havoc here for the past two days. But they haven’t found a single tunnel."

Appeasing Likud

Some Palestinian commentators, such as columnist Hani al-Masri, are convinced the current spate of killings and destruction in Rafah are aimed at promoting Sharon’s disengagement plan within Israel's right-wing political and military establishment.

"He [Sharon] is committing these atrocities in order to show the Likud and other right-wing sectors in Israel that he has remained the old brutal leader he has always been.

"In a sense, he believes that only by spilling more Palestinian blood will the Likud relent and accept his plan."

The other goal, according to Masri, is to destroy much of Gaza Strip for the purpose of decimating any remaining infrastructure for creating a viable Palestinian state in either Gaza or the West Bank.

"In short, he wants to see the Palestinians busy for the next 20 years rebuilding their homes, streets, and hospitals and lamenting the death of their loved ones."

Source: Aljazeera