Palestinians recall horror of Nuseirat massacre by Israel

“Suddenly, Israeli planes began bombing violently everywhere. No one understood anything. Everyone started running without knowing where to go safely,” a resident of Nuseirat told TNA [Getty]

Rami Kamal, a Palestinian man from the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip, can barely control his breathing due to psychological shock after the Israeli army’s special forces surrounded the building he lived in to carry out their unprecedented military operation to free two of the four Israeli captives over the weekend.

After many attempts, he finally was able to speak to The New Arab about what happened to his family and himself. The 45-year-old father of five said: “I was in my home with my family preparing food when suddenly we heard the sounds of violent and continuous shelling in the camp. We did not know what was happening or whether the targeting was close to our home.”

“I heard the sounds of numerous people running up the stairs of the building. I thought that the building would be evacuated of its residents, so I opened the door of the apartment to find out what was happening, and I was shocked to find several armed men wearing military vests and glasses and speaking in Hebrew,” Kamal said.

“I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I ran into the apartment without even being able to close the door. Using sign language, I asked my wife and children to follow me (…) We fled to the bathroom to seek refuge there, hoping it would protect us from any raids,” he added.

For the first time in his life, Kamal felt weak and humiliated because he was unable to protect his family if the soldiers came and killed all of them. 

While speaking, Kamal began to weep as he recalled how he held his breath by covering his mouth with his hands and gesturing to his family to do the same while they hid in the bathroom.

“I heard the sounds of clashes and screaming everywhere. I didn’t know what was going on, but I felt like I was on a battlefield and that we would all be killed inevitably,” he remarked to TNA. “I heard the voices of people in my apartment speaking Hebrew, and I never answered. Then I heard a loud explosion that shook the place before I fainted.”

One hour later, Kamal woke up and found himself being transferred on a stretcher (…) He started screaming for my family and his paramedics told him that they were fine but that they were all injured to varying degrees.

As soon as he gathered his strength, Kamal discovered that two of the four Israeli captives were present in the residential building in which he lives. 

“We did not know that there were captives(…) and we did not know that we would live such a nightmare one day,” he said. 

Ultimately, Kamal’s apartment and the entire residential building he lived in were destroyed by an Israeli attack. Now, he is displaced for the third time in the course of these past eight months. 

The events of Saturday for Palestinians in the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip were bloody, as Israeli special forces infiltrated the camp to free four Israeli captives.

In conjunction with the military force entering the camp, warplanes launched a series of violent raids on dozens of targets inside the camp, most of which were civilian homes, according to the Palestinian government media office in Gaza. 

About 274 Palestinians were killed and more than 698 others were injured, the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said. 

The Israeli army said in a statement that “four Israeli hostages were released, and all of them are in good health.”

Speaking separately with TNA, eyewitnesses described that what happened at Nuseirat on Saturday was like “Judgment Day.”

Mohammed al-Atrash, a resident of the camp, was in one of the streets near the building that the Israeli forces had infiltrated.

“Suddenly, Israeli planes began bombing violently everywhere. No one understood anything. Everyone started running without knowing where to go safely,” he told TNA. “We saw several special forces dismounting in the streets of the camp and shooting everyone in the street with silencers (…) They were executing people in cold blood. Everyone was targeted, without exception.”

“I saw dozens of victims lying on the ground without us even being able to try to save them. Women were screaming and asking for help, and no one came to their aid. Everyone was running everywhere and most of them were falling dead,” he continued.

Al-Atrash was among those who arrived at the building where the raid took place. “I saw the bodies of Palestinian fighters and about seven Israeli bodies,” he claimed.

When asked for proof, he said that he documented the bodies of the Israeli dead, but members of Hamas forced him to delete the photos while they retrieved the bodies and moved them to another location.

TNA cannot verify the validity of Al-Atrash’s claim. 

Officially, Israel only claimed one officer killed during the operation, Yamam officer Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora, and has not noted any further deaths or the number of wounded.

Israel has also mistakenly killed its own hostages during its assault in Gaza, with released captive Noa Argamani confirming that two others she was held with were killed in an Israeli airstrike in January.

“When the attack, which lasted for more than half an hour, subsided, we started to leave. We were shocked by the horror of what we saw. The victims were everywhere,” Al-Atrash said. “We started carrying them and putting them on anything that moved—a vehicle, a donkey cart, or a bicycle—to take them to the hospital and try to save their lives.”

For her part, Om Ahmed, a resident of the houses adjacent to the site, told TNA that several special forces raided her house and killed her children without even checking their identities.

“We lived through terrifying times. They are criminals who never spared any of us,” she said. 

Om Ahmed is fluent in English. According to her, the special forces spoke English and Hebrew, and one of them (even though he covered most of his face) looked like he was American or British. 

There have been rumours swirling in the besieged coastal enclave about the extent of the US’s involvement in Israel’s war on Gaza.

According to US media outlets, there is an American special forces cell in Israel supporting the efforts to release the Israeli captives, with US officials stressing that this team is not involved in the fighting, but rather is working on information gathering to determine the locations of Israeli captives. Further reports have noted that US and UK forces are involved in drone flights over Gaza in this endeavour.

For its part, the UN human rights office says civilian deaths at Nuseirat from the Israeli operation to release four captives could amount to war crimes.

“We are profoundly shocked at the impact on civilians of the Israeli forces’ operation. Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, were reportedly killed and injured,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the UN human rights office. “Furthermore, by holding hostages in such densely populated areas, the armed groups doing so are putting the lives of Palestinian civilians, as well as the hostages themselves, at added risk from the hostilities. All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes.”

Israel’s war on Gaza, now in its ninth month, has killed 37,124 Palestinians – mostly women and children – and injured at least 84,712 people. 

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