The Israeli government and its military allowed the first “pool” of journalists inside Gaza today — six from the list put together from the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel, and two from a list compiled by Danny Seaman, Director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Correspondents for The New York Times, Fox News, and The Daily Telegraph were among the first 8 journalists to get in. They were not processed through the main Erez terminal until nearly the end of the day.
There are said to be some 650 journalists who have signed up to go into Gaza.
The FPA says it will continue to fight for full access for foreign journalists.
A few journalists managed to enter Gaza from Rafah two days ago — including CNN’s Ben Wedeman, NPR’s Eric Westervelt, a crew from BBC and possibly a few others — after a lot of persuasion with the Egyptian Authorities.
It is not yet clear what kind of facilities — or shelter — these journalists will be able to find for themselves in the badly-damaged Gaza Strip, where tightened sanctions that have been in place for over a year might soon become even more restrictive. One of the major hotels frequented by journalists in the past was reportedly hit during an Israeli air strike. The journalists who got in through the Rafah crossing are reportedly staying in “houses”.
There are reports from sources other than foreign journalists — but not many.
The ICRC circulated an information note on Sunday evening, reporting there is “Grief and devastation as fighting abates”: “As fighting in Gaza has dropped off, people have been venturing out to look for missing relatives and see what is left of their lives. For many, the rubble reveals only further pain and despair. Sunday morning, ICRC teams and ambulances of the Palestine Red Crescent Society rushed to areas that had previously been difficult or even impossible to get to because of the fighting. By midday, approximately 100 badly decayed bodies had been retrieved from under the rubble. Sadly, no survivors were found, raising fears that the actual death toll could climb in coming days. Many people who had fled went to extract their own dead loved ones from what had once been their home. Some were transporting bodies by whatever means they could find for immediate burial in the cemeteries. ‘We saw the bodies of two old women being taken away by family members on a donkey cart. Both had head wounds’, said Iyad Nasr, the ICRC’s spokesman in Gaza. ‘It is almost impossible to describe the grief and devastation in that particular place’. A number of areas, including parts of Beit Lahiya, looked like the aftermath of a strong earthquake – entire neighbourhoods were beyond recognition. Some houses had been completely levelled; others were still standing but were so badly damaged by shelling that it would be too dangerous to move back in. Roads were completely destroyed, making it almost impossible for vehicles to move through them. Friends and neighbours who had not seen one another for weeks hugged as they returned to their homes. Others sifted through the rubble, looking for pieces of furniture or kitchen utensils that could still be used. As the fighting largely came to a halt and civilians no longer had to concentrate on simple survival, they now tried to come to terms with their loss. ‘An old man approached me as I was assessing destruction in a neighbourhood’, said Nasr. ‘He told me that everything he had worked for all his life, everything he had achieved, had been destroyed: his house, his orchards of olive, citrus and palm trees. Everything. Then he wept. He just stood there with me and wept’.”
The Associated Press reported Sunday evening that “For Palestinians searching the rubble of this devastated refugee camp, the mounds of concrete and metal hid all they desperately wanted and needed: the bodies of dead relatives, belongings and — bitterly — scraps of bombs now valuable enough to sell as recycled aluminum. Destruction was everywhere on Sunday, in churned up farmland, dangling electricity poles, charred bodies of cars abandoned on pulverized roads, and broken pipes overflowing with sewage. The stench of rotting corpses, both human and animal, hung in the air” …
This report can be read in full here.
Then, there are the two print “pool reports” received today by the FPA:
(1.) By Ethan Bronner, NYTimes
“The eight of us crossed Erez around 3:30 or 4 so there was limited light left for much reporting. We were alone walking from Erez that kilometer or so to the passport check on the other side. It was a complete ghost town (except for an Israeli tank visible over the embankment) and the ride to Jebalya from there revealed ghost-town like roads with mangy dogs and abused looking mules sniffing around garbage piles, but very few people at all. Jebalya itself, on the other hand, was quite lively, with hundreds walking around the destruction – houses, mosques, water mains. Our driver, Ashraf al-Masri, who lives in the north, said he had been without electricity or water for the entire war. A 10-year-old cousin of his, Amghan al-masri and his grandmother Intissar, had been killed that morning by an Israeli shell. Ashraf said he had not seen Hamas activists or security men yet on the streets.
“Hamas is paying for the mourning tents and funerals of many as well as the dates and coffee served there. In Beit Lahiya we saw the destroyed Taha mosque, affiliated with Hamas, and 20 men putting up the metal holders for a tent to go in front of it for prayers in future. In a neighborhood of Beit Lahiya that drew a lot of media attention (there were a number of TV cameras there when we got there) an area that had once been filled with olive, orange and lemon trees had been completely leveled by Israeli tanks. Israelis had taken over many of the houses around the grove when the ground war began two weeks ago. Yesterday, they left but destroyed all the houses upon exiting. We saw families pushing their belongings – old TV’s, cushions, blankets – on their backs and on donkey-drawn carts across the newly-dug dirt of the former grove.
“Nazik Riham, 38, an engineer with the Pal Water Authority, whose house was among those hit, said he left with everyone else two weeks ago when the Israelis took over. He said he was not coming back to stay yet, however, because ‘I don’t trust this cease-fire by Israel’.
“In Gaza City , the monuments to destruction abound – the parliament is a pile of teetering rubble, the foreign ministry is gone, the saraya is destroyed, the engineering dept of the Islamic University is folded in on itself. Amani Kurdi, 19, a student there, had come to see the damage for herself on her first day out after the war ended.
” ‘I am shaking’, she said as she looked. She said due to lack of power she had not been able to see the damage on TV. Told that Israel said the department was where Hamas rockets were made, she laughed it off and said the labs were open 24 hours and all parts of the building, including the basement, were accessible. Asked why Israel would do this, she said it was probably because of the name ‘Islamic’ and Israel ’s desire for Palestinians not to have an education”
(2) By Tim Butcher in Gaza City, for The Daily Telegraph
“THE ELDERLY Palestinian man mouthed some words but nothing came out.
“The sight yesterday SUNDAY of what had once been a four-story family home in the Gazan town of Beit Lahiya shocked Mustapha Saqar, 59, into speechlessness.
“Every room was gutted, the façade was perforated with blast holes and the only things he had been able to salvage were a bedside table and a soggy mattress.
It was a scene played out repeatedly across the Gaza Strip as thousands of Palestinians used the ceasefire to emerge gingerly from the shelters where they had hidden for three weeks to find what remained of their homes.
“In the Beit Lahiya district of Itwaam they had to leave their cars behind and walk through sandy ground churned up by the tracks of Israeli Merkava battle tanks.
“Some of the more enterprising brought donkeys hauling carts over the deeply-rutted ground to recover what they could from destroyed homes …
” ‘I have been to the house of my brother and this is all what was left’,’ Auni Najar, 44, said pointing at a cart of blankets and curtains sodden with rain.
“He has no home now so he has come with his wife and nine children to live in my house, a house that I already share with my wife and three children.
” ‘I don’t know how we are going to survive’.’
“Among civilian families like the Saqars there was a terrible sense of helplessness and anger at both the Israeli armed forces and the militant fighters who had robbed them of a home.
” ‘I don’t know why the Israelis came here,’’ Khadija Saqar, 57, said ‘Maybe there were some people firing rockets from here but they were not my people. All I know is that I no longer have a home’ .
“The Saqar home’s position on the top of a sandy rise with views west to the Mediterranean meant it had been selected by Israeli troops as a suitable place for a base. On the ground floor the troops had left stacks of uneaten pitta bread, wrappers from high-energy bars bearing Hebrew script and chewing gum not available in the shops of Gaza. They had also punched a hole in the back wall to use as an emergency exit.
“Getting into the Gaza Strip yesterday SUNDAY meant crossing a no-man’s land on the fringe of the territory from where all local Palestinians had fled.
“The first group of journalists allowed by Israel through the Erez crossing since the start of operation Cast Lead had only feral dogs, white donkeys and an Israeli tank for company as they trudged along the war-damaged road.
“After reaching the relative safety of the built-up areas in northern Gaza the scale of Israel ’s assault on the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip became apparent.
“There were bomb craters in road junctions flooded with foul-smelling water from broken sewage pipes, minarets perforated by shell blasts and great drifts of rubble across main thoroughfares bestrewn with fallen power cables.
“At one site the blast had been so strong a tree had had all its leaves blown off leaving nothing but a skeleton.
“The lack of electricity had plunged Gaza City back into the Dark Ages and young men gathering fire wood could be seen walking the tatty streets.
“As night fell fires were being lit on pavements and pots of food were being heated.
“Without street lighting the city had a post-apocalyptic air as shadowy figures emerged from among piles of collapsed masonry and puddles shattered glass spread across on the streets twinkled momentarily in the headlights of the occasional car.
“Before darkness fell it was possible to get a sense of how Gaza City has become a city of monumental destruction.
“The parliament building had been bombed repeatedly and its concrete floors teetered dangerously on partially-collapsed walls like an unconvincing house of cards.
“The seraya compound had once been a proud possession of Hamas, a place where they showed how well they treated inmates in prison, had been blown to smithereens.
“The foreign minister’s office was simply gone. It had vanished in repeated strikes by laser-guided bombs.
“The accuracy of the Israeli air-strikes might have been impressive but the targets chosen by the Israeli planners left some Gazans bemused.
“Amani Kurdi, a 19-year-old girl first-year science student at the Islamic University giggled in disbelief at the claim made by Israel the university’s science department was a site used to design rockets fired at Israel .
” ‘I am shaking’, she said as she looked through the gate at the six-storey building that used to house the science department where she studied. Only the stair well remained upright like a chimney stack of doorways towering over the rubble of destroyed laboratories. ‘I had heard that my department had been hit but we had no power in our house so I could not see any pictures on the TV and I wanted to come today and see with my own eyes. The laboratories were open 24 hours a day to all students and they were not secret places where rockets were designed. All I can think is that the Israelis don’t want us to have an education and so they destroy this university simply because it has the name “Islamic”. ‘I don’t know what sort of future I have now – only God knows my future after this.’’