After three weeks of Israeli bombardment, previously deserted Gaza streets are filling up again as tens of thousands of people who had fled their homes begin to return. But, as Amnesty International's fact-finding team in Gaza witnessed on Tuesday, thousands have no homes to return to, because so many were destroyed by Israeli forces.
In its latest post on Amnesty International's Livewire blog, the team described how they had gone to Gaza City's Zaitoun neighbourhood and spoken to survivors amidst the rubble. At a mourning tent, the surviving members of the Sammouni family received condolences and recited prayers for their 29 relatives killed by Israeli forces.
"Salah Sammouni told us that Israeli soldiers had evicted them from their home, which they then used as a military base, and told them to stay in their relatives' house across the road, only to bomb it the following day. Some died on the spot, they said, while others were left to die, as the Israeli army did not allow the ambulances to approach the house to evacuate the wounded for several days."
The team also visited the Shifa hospital, Gaza's main hospital, where they spoke to medical staff about the challenges of dealing with phosphorus burns and other injuries. The head of the burns unit told the team that at first, they had not known that they were dealing with injuries caused by white phosphorus. He described unusual orange burns which would become deeper with an offensive odour. After several hours smoke would start coming from the wound.
"We had a child of three years with a head injury. After three hours we changed the dressing and saw smoke coming out of the wound. We opened the wound and brought out this wedge. We had not seen it before. Later on, some colleagues, doctors from Egypt and Norway, were able to enter Gaza and told us that this was white phosphorus," said the doctor
"We noticed various things about this: the burn does not heal; the phosphorus may remain inside the body and goes on burning there, and the general condition of the patient deteriorates – normally with 10-15 percent burns you would expect a cure, now many such patients die."
Other strange injuries were caused by unusual weapons (possibly including Deep Inert metal Explosive – DIME weapons) which doctors did not know how to deal with. "We had eight amputations on one day – normally, the patients should all have lived, but they all died. We don't understand it," one doctor told the team.