Red Cross chief in Gaza's Rafah recounts shelling horror

Red Cross chief in Gaza's Rafah recounts shelling horror
William Schomburg, a senior Red Cross official in Gaza, said: 'We literally found body parts scattered in different areas.'
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William Schomburg is the International Committee of the Red Cross's chief in Gaza's Rafah [Getty-file photo]

A senior Red Cross official in Gaza on Saturday told reporters of the horrific scenes after an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip.

It was around 3:30pm when three explosions rocked the walls of the Red Cross compound in Gaza on Friday, William Schomburg, the local chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told reporters in Geneva via video link.

Then came the "flood of wounded people" seeking help, said the international charity's chief in Rafah.

"There were piles of dead bodies, blood everywhere," he added.

Twenty-two people were killed in shelling that lightly damaged the outside walls of the compound where the Red Cross has been operating.

It is located just south of an area Israel has claimed is a so-called "humanitarian" zone.

"All of our buildings are very well known to all parties to the conflict," Schomburg said.

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Refusing to speculate on the source of the shelling, he said: "We're not here to lay blame.

"But of course, this incident is one of several near misses that we have had… and we as the ICRC cannot operate like this."

'Pools of blood'

Many of the wounded were taken by ambulance to a nearby Red Cross field hospital for operations. Some did not survive.

No Red Cross employees were killed, Schomburg said, but two children of staff members required treatment for injuries sustained in the blasts.

It is not the first time Red Cross facilities have been damaged during the more than eight months of the Gaza war.

Schomburg said that recovering from the trauma of Friday's strike would not be easy.

"Around the compound on the street, there were pools of blood, there were bodies strewn across the ground," he said.

"We literally found body parts scattered in different areas, including within the compound.

"Frankly, it's like nothing I've ever seen before. The scale of the suffering in such a short period of time was really very shocking for the team."

'Overwhelming' fear

The shelling came as Israel has stepped up its strikes in Gaza since war its war on the strip began in October.

Israel's military campaign has killed at least 37,551 people, according to Gaza's health ministry.

A Hamas-led 7 October attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Captives were also taken, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

An Israeli military statement on Saturday said an initial inquiry found "there was no direct attack carried out by the [army] against a Red Cross facility".

But the incident was still under review and "findings will be presented to our international partners".

The Red Cross office is surrounded by a camp where several families of ICRC staff members live in tents. Schomburg said it was a "miracle" that none were severely injured.

Nonetheless "there was an overwhelming sense of fear amongst people that were clearly panicked and very desperate with nowhere to go", he added.

Thousands of displaced Palestinians have been sheltering in tents in the coastal Al-Mawasi area since the outbreak of the fighting. Israel claims Al-Mawasi is a "humanitarian" zone.

"Our office here in Rafah, like all of our buildings and facilities, are all marked with the Red Cross emblem and are known by all parties," Schomburg said.

"So how to explain the strikes we experienced yesterday? I think you will have to ask the parties involved in this conflict, and not us."