One killed every three hours
More Palestinian massacres before the Israeli elections. Khaled Amayreh reports from the West Bank
The Israeli army dramatically stepped up its slow-motion genocide against Palestinians on the eve of the Israeli general elections, killing and maiming dozens of mostly innocent civilians and utterly destroying hundreds of homes, shops, businesses, factories and a major bridge in Gaza.
For ten hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Israeli forces, backed by tanks and American-supplied helicopter gunships, attacked and wreaked havoc on civilian neighbourhoods in the heart of Gaza City, which has a population of 300,000 people.
During the massive rampage dubbed "Hot Iron", Israeli tanks shelled homes and businesses, including grocery stores, while Apache helicopters launched numerous Hell Fire missiles at family businesses and factories, utterly destroying the unprotected premises.
A small number of Palestinian resistance activists, armed with light rifles, tried desperately to put up a resistance to the invading armada of Merkava and Abrams battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, 60- ton army bulldozers and attacking helicopters, opting to die rather than watch the Israeli Army ravage their neighbourhood.
The Israeli Army managed to destroy Dahiyat Al-Zayton, liberally shooting at civilians, suspected resistance activists and anybody moving. By dawn on Sunday, the carnage caused by Israel was apparent.
The streets of the Zayton neighbourhood were strewn with Palestinian bodies -- some victims were as young as 14 years old. Some of the corpses were mutilated beyond recognition. Others were headless and some were cut in half by artillery shells. Fourteen people were killed, and almost 60 people -- most of them civilians -- were injured, ten of them critically.
Palestinian sources reported that over a hundred shops, workshops and foundries were completely destroyed. Several multi- storey apartment buildings were also demolished or made inhabitable by non-stop artillery shelling, which also destroyed a plant manufacturing rubbish-containers (the only one of its kind in the Gaza Strip), carpentry shops, grocery stores and other businesses along the main streets of the neighbourhood.
The most wide-scale havoc was wreaked on a market crowded with hundreds of small businesses, most of which went up in flames.
Many of the Palestinians accused the Israeli Army of committing "economic genocide" against them, pointing out that the Israelis were effectively destroying the very source of their livelihood.
"There wasn't a single armed man in this area," said one shopkeeper. "The Israeli Army wants to destroy the livelihood of our people here. It is like Nazism."
The Israeli Army did not deny the Palestinian charges.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said that the army "was hurting and harming Palestinians", adding that the army was planning to reoccupy the entire Gaza strip. Earlier, the Israelis dynamited the Beit Hanon Bridge, which links the northern Gaza town with the rest of the strip.
Palestinian leaders vowed to retaliate, saying Israel had left them with no other choice.
"This wanton atrocity shows that the Zionists will observe no red lines. They want to destroy the Palestinian people and kill every man, woman and child. They are after our very existence as a people," said Abdullah Al-Shami, a prominent spokesman for the Islamic Jihad organisation in Gaza.
Shami also accused Israel of trying to torpedo Egyptian-sponsored inter-Palestinian talks in Cairo.
"Before this atrocity, we were under immense pressure to halt resistance attacks, now we are under immense pressure to retaliate."
The killing of Palestinian civilians, which one Israeli commentator described as Sharon's best way to win votes among many Israeli voters, continued even on election day.
According to eyewitnesses in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli occupation soldiers killed at least four Palestinians who were spotted walking outside their homes.
A photo-journalist was also shot and wounded when he tried to take a snap-shot of the murder.
"[The Israeli soldiers] shot them for no other reason except that they were walking in the street; they are Nazis, Judeo-Nazis," said eyewitness Ali Al-Omari.
Also in the Gaza Strip, a man and his two children were killed last night in a blast, which Palestinian sources said was caused by an Israeli missile fired from a hovering helicopter gunship.
The Israeli Army denied responsibility for the blast.
The new victims in Jenin and Gaza bring the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation army over the past days to 32. In other words, Israel killed at least one Palestinian every three hours.
But this did not stop the Palestinians from monitoring the Israeli elections with mounting anxiety. They feared that a victory for Sharon and his right-wing and religious allies would mean more massacres and killings of Palestinians.
"Sharon is a war criminal; what would you expect from a war criminal, and Israelis are infatuated with their war criminals," commented Raef Abu-Sneineh, a vendor in Hebron.