What happened to residents trapped in the besieged southern Gaza town of Khuzaa?
Between July 21 and 25, 2014, Israel attacked the southern Gaza town of Khuzaa. Civilians were reported to have been killed and wounded, some while reportedly trying to escape.
Then after the attack, Israeli forces besieged the town for 10 days, during which it was cut off from the outside world.
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This film was shot by crews working for Al Jazeera Arabic Channel that made two visits to the town. The first was during the four-day period of the initial attacks on July 24.
According to the production team, Israeli forces had bombed and shelled Khuzaa for three days but then declared a brief, humanitarian ceasefire during which they allowed medical crews in for a couple of hours.
The crew, including Al Jazeera Correspondent Tamer Al-Meshal witnessed the destruction and loss of life first-hand. The wounded had been appealing for help for three days but none had arrived; and the dead had been left where they fell.
Many residents had managed to escape but some claimed to have been shot at and targeted by tank shelling whilst doing so. The Al Jazeera crew filmed the rage and distress of the survivors and the bereaved as they vented their anger at the attacks, the heavy death toll and the shocking, untreated injuries, many to children.
The crew filmed the removal of the dead and rudimentary treatment of the injured – and interviewed Red Crescent workers who were equally as angry and shocked. One said it was as though a tsunami had hit the small, agricultural town.
After the brief ceasefire, the tanks and artillery returned, the attacks resumed, the townspeople sought refuge and the rescue services were forced to withdraw. Khuzaa was closed to the outside world as Israeli forces took control of the town.
The crew paid its second visit to Khuzaa 10 days later on August 2, when residents started returning to the town – but nothing they had experienced in the conflict so far had prepared them for the devastation confronting them – and, more disturbingly, the killing of civilians who’d remained.
Anyone who failed to escape by July 25 had met a violent end. Bodies lay by the shattered facades of bombed-out buildings, and the dead – who had lain there unattended for 10 days – were in the noxious stages of bodily decay, the stench of death filling the air.
Al Jazeera’s Tamer Al-Meshal continued with his camera crew into the heart of Khuzaa and the neighbourhood inhabited by the extended Al-Nijar family. They were directed to a house where people were suggesting a group of young men had been killed. Meshal went inside, despite the smell of decay, and saw a group of men lying dead in the bathroom. The house had not been bombed and the murder appeared to Meshal as having been close-up and calculated.
Human Rights Watch is investigating reports of Israeli soldiers firing on unarmed civilians trying to flee Khuzaa in what it called an ‘apparent violation of the laws of war’ and describes three incidents, including one in which 120 people who’d survived an attack by shelling escaped towards neighbouring Khan Younis carrying white flags with their hands raised.
But when they came across Israeli soldiers they were allegedly attacked and one man was hit by a missile and another badly wounded. At the time, the Israeli military had not responded to this report.
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