Four-year-old Samar Abed Rabbu
is a little girl with a captivating smile to melt the heart of
the most hardened correspondent.
first came across her in the hospital in the Egyptian town of
El-Arish, just over the border from Gaza, she was playing with
an inflated surgical glove beneath the covers.
doctors had puffed air into the glove, trying to distract her
from the further pain they had to inflict inserting a drip.
had been shot in the back at close range. The bullet damaged her
spine, and she is unlikely to walk again.
bedside, her uncle Hassan told us the family had been ordered
out of their home by Israeli soldiers who were shelling the
had parked in front of the house, where around 30 people were
women and children - mother, grandmother and three little girls
- came out waving a white flag and then, he said, an Israeli
soldier came out of the tank and opened fire on the terrified
two sisters, aged seven and two, were shot dead. The grandmother
was hit in the arm and in the side, but has survived.
the most alarming features of the conflict in Gaza is the number
of child casualties. More than 400 were killed. Many had
shrapnel or blast injuries sustained as the Israeli army battled
Hamas militants in Gaza's densely populated civilian areas.
head of neurosurgery at the El-Arish hospital, Dr Ahmed Yahia,
told me that brain scans made it clear that a number of the
child victims had been shot at close range.
uncle said the soldier who had shot his niece was just 15m
(49ft) away. ''How could they not see they were shooting at
children?'' he asked.
finally got into Gaza, we tried to investigate further.
a house, even with an address, in a neighbourhood that has been
bombed into oblivion, where all landmarks have been obliterated
and even the locals cannot find their bearings, is not easy.
eventually met a man who knew Samar's family and took us to the
family house, or what was left of it.
four-storey building has been concertinaed to the ground.
Abed Rabbu wears on his face all the pain of Israel's bloody
three-week campaign in Gaza. In his hand he carried the teddy
bear that had belonged to his daughter, Samar's six-year-old
had been blown off, apparently in the same burst of gunfire that
had cut his daughter in half.
described the events of that night almost identically to his
brother. There were minor discrepancies, but he too believes his
daughters were shot in cold blood.
were soldiers leaning against the tank eating crisps," he said.
"But then one of them jumped down and walked towards the house
with an M16 automatic rifle."
showed me a photo of his eldest daughter under shrouds in the
has my family done to Israel," he cried. "What has Samar done to
deserve all this pain?"
put the family's allegations to the Israelis. So far they have
told us that they can not comment on specific cases.
spokesman said they had made every effort to limit civilian
casualties but were fighting a terrorist organisation that often
uses the civilian population as cover.
Israelis say is evidence that on many occasions when civilians
were killed their troops had been responding to incoming fire.
are reports of the neighbourhood where the family lived, known
as Ezbat Abed Rabbu, had been used by militant fighters in the
past. During an incursion in the spring of 2008 the Israelis
took over Khalid's house for two days.
Khalid insists he is not Hamas, he is not a fighter. He said he
worked for the Palestinian Authority and is a member of Fatah,
Hamas's political rivals.
were no fighters here," he added, picking up crisp bags printed
with Hebrew lettering that the soldiers seemed to have left
behind. "Do you think soldiers eat crisps sitting on their tanks
when there is incoming fire?"
father and her uncle have not spoken to each other since she
left Gaza for treatment in Egypt, yet in separate interviews
they told us the three girls were outside the house, in plain
view, when they were shot.
toured the part of Jabaliya where the Abed Rabbus lived. In an
area that must cover at least a square mile, there are no houses
left - no mosques, no factories and no orchards. The entire
neighbourhood has been devastated.
be true that fighters were hiding in the alleys of Jabaliya. It
is possible that rockets were being fired from here towards
the people who lived here, this is a story of wanton
destruction. The world must now decide whether the Israeli
action here was justified under the rules of war.