Palestinians finally bury their dead

Rafah - For days bodies filled the morgues. Only since guns fell silent have volunteers come to dig graves in the sand in Rafah, Gaza's "town of martyrs", devastated by Israeli bombardment.

For three days the strategic southern town went through hell.

"The tanks came," says Mohammed Abu Luli, 50, who fled his home after the bombardment started.

"There were strikes from air, land and sea. The bombs rained down everywhere. I have never seen anything like it in all my life," he added.

In neighbourhoods, houses lie flattened or ripped open by shelling. Asphalt on the road has been ripped up by the weight of Israeli tanks.

At the end of one field of rubble lies a strange, gaping hole: a tunnel used by Hamas fighters.

Rafah experienced some of the worst fighting during the month-long war between Israel and Hamas.

The bombardment intensified when a 1 August truce between both sides unravelled in just 90 minutes after Hamas ambushed an Israeli unit, killing two soldiers and sparking suspicion of capturing a third.

The army shot back with a bloody and prolonged assault on Rafah, under which ran a network of tunnels that Hamas used to smuggle weapons and supplies from Egypt.

Israel initially said Lieutenant Hadar Goldin had probably been snatched by Hamas fighters.

The last Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas, Gilad Shalit, was held hostage five years before being freed in exchange for more than 1 000 Palestinian prisoners.

On Sunday, Israel eventually confirmed Goldin's death after DNA tests on body parts found in a tunnel.

Israel sustained some of its worst losses from Hamas fighters who burst out of their carefully built tunnels to ambushed stunned soldiers.

Morgues overflowed

This was how Hamas attacked Goldin and his unit.

"Our fighters came out behind the tanks and sprayed them with bullets and rockets," one fighter told AFP in Rafah on Tuesday before running off.

On Wednesday at dawn, a digger churned up and dumped sand on top of the tunnel under close gaze of militants clearly hostile to the presence of cameras, demanding that footage be wiped.

Mohammed's brother Mahmud Abu Luli was sheltering in a UN school in the centre of Rafah.

"But there was an Israeli bombardment just outside the school, in the street. I saw everything, there was a pool of blood on the ground," he said behind his bushy white beard.

"Rafah is a town of martyrs!" he adds as men standing by nod in a agreement and children collect pieces of shell and mortar from the ground.

Combat was so intense that local residents were trapped inside, unable to bury their dead on the same day or even the next, as Muslim tradition requires.

It was not until after Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour truce, begun on Tuesday, that residents in Rafah could start to come out and bury the dead, kept until then in chock-a-block morgues.

Even morgues overflowed.

"We had to use all the places in the hospital and neighbours' houses and rental refrigerators for vegetables and put the bodies in them. The situation was a tragedy," said Mohammed al-Masri, director of the small Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah.

In a cemetery just 100m from the Egyptian border, men dig trenches in the sand and put in cement blocks to form small tomb-like rectangles. Each body is placed in a rectangle, then the whole space covered up into a mass grave.

Thirty little anonymous mounds quickly form in the sand. Outside the cemetery a group of relatives mourn the death of Sumaya Abid Duhair, a nurse killed in an air strike on her house.

"We have to keep working because other bodies will be buried here," says Nidal Shalagel, a volunteer in his 30s. "That's enough. We need peace. No one likes death."

Read more on: palestine israel gaza
forest gump 2014/08/06 08:17:46 PM
these dead Palestinians are sadly the only Palestinians that will ever have real peace for the foreseeable future ... unless Israel has a serious turnaround in policy . from god do we come and to him we must return
Finya Ngendololwane 2014/08/06 08:20:32 PM
After the 2nd Lebanon war in 2006, Benji he bugged Olmert with a commission of inquiry. I doubt if he will call for one this time. It's sad to read about the funerals of hundreds of Gazans as well as those of Israelis who also died. All for a few tunnels
Enig Ma 2014/08/06 08:40:03 PM
Very sad. Sickening that this kind of thing happens in real life, in "modern" times. I hope the next generation realises how terribly unfair this is. I wonder how many pills Nut&Yahoo drinks at night in order to enjoy peaceful sleep. Then again, psychopaths do not care.
King Peter Hudson 2014/08/06 08:45:34 PM
What is it with u and your pro arab campaign? The majority of South Africans support Israel and will continue to do so Let them stop firing rockeys into Israel
Martha Pezu 2014/08/06 08:51:56 PM
Well said King Peter Hudson,,
Mohamed Faruk Chohan 2014/08/06 09:08:30 PM
Most South Africans support opening the boarders , peace , equality and the return of land to these displaced refugees. Those that continue to blame Hamas for a ploy by Israel to split Palestine have only succeeded in highlighting the injustice against Palestine . And before any of u anti-Islam and pro Israeli propaganda start with what's happening in the rest of the world, you will not deflect the truth that Israel is an apartheid state. As in South Africa we can forgive but we won't forget.
Binte Maya 2014/08/06 09:29:16 PM
Yes enig ma I couldn't agree more.. absolutely heartbreaking!!
Mohamed Faruk Chohan 2014/08/06 09:41:13 PM
Wez do you type faster than u think?
Mohamed Faruk Chohan 2014/08/06 10:22:50 PM
Nope you sound even more ridiculous when you think. For the record we Muslims are disgusted by ISIS who's leader was trained by Mossad, America and Britain . But that's to much info for you.
Makhulu Zulu 2014/08/06 10:46:16 PM
Our prayers are with you people of Palestine. Perhaps you will have a better life in the next eternal life. Surely people who murder children will even be punished by their own God in eternal hell.