Survivors tell harrowing tales of Israeli barrage

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The Independent Online

Scorched fragments of clothes, a girl's slipper and body parts lay strewn in pools of blood in front of a row of houses that was riddled by what witnesses said was an Israeli artillery strike today while Palestinian residents slept.

The Palestinian health ministry said 18 people from an extended family were killed, including 10 children and seven women. About 60 people were wounded, the ministry said.

Clan member Akram al-Athamna, an off duty policeman, said he was woken at dawn by the sound of a shell exploding.

"I looked, and about 50 meters (yards) away, I saw smoke coming out of the house of my uncle Saad," he said. "It looked like the shells hit the top floor, and my brother and I ran down into an alley."

He said he counted about 15 shells hitting and that many of the casualties were people who fled outside after the first explosions and were caught in the open.

"Projectiles were fired directly onto the people who were rushing out of the house," he said. "There was blood everywhere. I saw my neighbor, Sakher Adwan, he went to get his sister, and he was killed."

Rahwi Hamad, 35, who lives across the street, said he woke to the sound of shells exploding and people screaming.

"I opened my window and I looked out and I saw a shell hit a neighbor's house ... When I came out, another shell had hit the house," he said. "We took dismembered bodies from the houses. we saw legs, hands, parts of heads stuck to the wall, it was disgusting. There was a stench of blood and (burned) flesh."

Large holes had been punched in the fronts of the houses and their balconies had collapsed.

Surviving relatives sat weeping in front of the buildings. One man dipped his fingers in a puddle of blood and daubed it on his face.

"God avenge us, God avenge us," he cried.

Firefighters hosed the blood off buildings and cobblestones while ambulance crews gathered body parts from nearby streets and gardens.

The Israeli army said an initial probe found only that artillery fire had been aimed at an open area used by militants to launch rockets.

Israeli officials said they regretted the loss of life but were awaiting the outcome of the army investigation to determine what exactly had happened. The Defence Minister Amir Peretz ordered a halt to artillery fire while the probe continued.