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MID: Displaced Gazans have little faith in Israeli ceasefire

18 Jan 2009 10:24 AM

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip, Jan 18 AFP - Word has spread among sheltering Gazans that Israel will soon hold its fire, but those who have fled its onslaught are wary of venturing back to homes that may no longer exist.

Latifa Ghaban, huddling with her children and grandchildren at a UN-run school in the shell-shocked town of Beit Lahiya, still thinks it too dangerous to go back to her home, which was struck by tank fire.

"We will not return to our house unless there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and a complete stop to the war," the 56-year-old woman says.

"The Jews struck our house, they killed my son and they wounded my husband," she says. "I won't return because I am scared for the rest of my children."

The school provides some safety, but not enough, as Latifa and others discovered earlier Saturday when Israeli munitions rained down on the building, setting parts of it alight and terrifying the 1,600 people sheltering there.

Two young boys, one five years old and the other seven, were killed in the attack, which wounded a dozen other people including their mother, whose legs were blown off and who is now in critical condition, according to medics.

It was the fourth such strike on UN-run buildings in Gaza since Israel's massive offensive on the Hamas-ruled territory began December 27. The war has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Palestinians, a third of them children.

Israel has said it is investigating the attack on the school, and insists it is striving to avoid striking civilians in a war aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israeli towns.

But Ghaban puts little faith in what she hears from Israelis.

"The Jews are liars. I don't believe them. They'll say there is a ceasefire and then continue the shelling," she says.

On Saturday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would halt its fire at 0000 GMT but that troops would remain in the territory and return fire if attacked by Palestinian militants.

The Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza has said it will battle on until Israel completely withdraws from their battered coastal enclave and opens Gaza's border crossings.

"There is no point in having a unilateral ceasefire," says Ahlam, a 31-year-old teacher who fled to the school from the southern Gaza City neighbourhood of Tel al-Hawa, the scene of heavy fighting this week.

"We fled from our home because of the bombing from the planes and the shelling from the tanks. We won't even think about returning unless there is an agreement between Hamas and Israel," she says.

Mohammed, the 25-year-old father of three, calls the Israeli announcement "empty words" and says he will be staying put.

"Hamas has announced that the resistance will continue and Israel said that it would respond to any rockets, and furthermore Israel will not stop the shelling and the killing," he says.

Ashraf Ashur may return to his fruit and vegetable shop in Tel al-Hawa, damaged by a tank shell earlier in the week, but only to scope the place out.

"I might go to the shop for an hour tomorrow and keep doing that for a few days to see how things go, if there are strikes from Israel or not," the 22-year-old merchant says.

"If the strikes continue, I'll never go back."