On 9 December at around 2:00 am, the Israeli Air Force shelled an area near an alleged al-Qassam Brigades military base, known as al-Maqousi, killing Bahjat Ramadan al-Za’lan and his 10-year-old son, Ramadan. The shelling took place ten minutes after a group of unidentified individuals fired two rockets over the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. The rockets were fired from a distance of about 300 metres from Bahjat’s home (Source: Al-Haq’s Field Report of the Killing of Bahjat and Ramadan al-Za’lan).
In addition to leveling the alleged al-Qassam Brigades’ military base, the homes of Bahjat and his brother Tal’at, located next to the base, were also completely destroyed in the attack. Bahjat, whose wife had recently given birth to their fifth child, died soon after being transferred to a nearby hospital. His son, Ramadan, was pronounced dead later the same evening. Another son, Yousef (8 years old) was transferred to Kaplan hospital in Israel and is in a very critical condition.
Palestinian civilians living within the densely populated area of Gaza City find themselves at a high risk of being killed or wounded during Israeli military air-raids and land incursions. The danger extends to the whole of the Gaza Strip. This year alone 32 civilians have been killed by the Israeli military in the area.
Residents of al-Nasr neighborhood, north of Gaza City, face a particularly high risk of death or injury as they live in houses built very close to the al-Qassam Brigades military base known as al-Maqousi. Their repeated requests for the al-Qassam Brigades to relocate have been denied and they were told to move elsewhere if they did not feel safe enough. With nowhere else to go these residents have no choice than to live under the constant threat of attack.
These families have become accustomed to having to evacuate their homes during times of tension with Israel. On this occasion, however, they were not expecting the attack and so did not evacuate. There was no prior warning of the shelling and no steps were taken to ensure the safety of the residents of the area around the target.
It is important to stress that, according to international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict must take all the necessary measures to spare civilians from the effects of the conflict. As such Israeli military forces have a responsibility to take all possible precautions before an attack with a view to avoiding injury to civilians and damage to civilian property. In addition, Palestinian militant groups have a responsibility not to place their military facilities near civilian areas or, when constrained by military necessity, to ensure the effective evacuation of civilians to other homes.
Bahjat’s nephew, MiqdadTal’at al-Za’lan (17 years old), whose home was also destroyed, gave this account of the attack.
“Suddenly I heard a second explosion. It was one and half minutes after and was as strong as the first explosion. The whole area lost electrical power. My father and I tried to protect our families from the rubble and concrete slabs flying over our heads. We managed to leave our house and then I heard my uncle Bahjat calling me. I left my family, who were seeking protection under the walls of our neighbour’s home. I hurried to my uncle’s aid and as I was walking to him, I heard a third and stronger explosion. When I entered my uncle’s house after the third explosion, it was completely destroyed. I heard my uncle’s wife calling me and asked me to grab her baby from beneath the rubble and save him. She seemed to be in pain so I lifted the ruins and rubble that had fallen on her and found her baby in her arms. I grabbed the baby and handed it to my brother Khaled who had come with me to help. Khaled then came back and helped me clear the rubble from the upper part of my uncle’s body. I saw my uncle Bahjat breathing with difficulty and this was when my father arrived. I heard my uncle tell my father, ‘Go find my children and take them out of the rubble’” (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 6846/2011).