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DCI: Child blown to pieces, one maimed and two injured in drone attack

Defense for Children International

On 7 January 2009, Husam Sobuh (11) decided to bring more food, blankets and clothes to the UNRWA school in Beit Lahiya, where he was taking refuge with his family. On his way, he met with his uncle Osama (36) and his two children, Huda (11) and Luai (9), who were going home for the same reason. During this dangerous journey to their neighbourhood, where combatants were now fighting, Husam sheltered in an empty house with Mahmoud Abu Laila (14) and Luai Sobuh (9). All of a sudden, the building was attacked twice by a drone plane. Husam was blown into two pieces. Luai was blinded, and his body badly injured in the attack. Mahmoud suffered several injuries but recovered, as did Huda, who is badly traumatized by the incident. Osama has heard of treatment to restore Luai’s sight in the United States, but can’t afford the treatment.

The following information is based on an affidavit taken by DCI-Palestine from Husam Sobuh’s father, Osama Rajab Mohammad Sobuh, on 11 November 2009.

When the ground offensive stage of Operation Cast Lead saw an escalation in the bombing and shelling of Beit Lahiya, Osama Sobuh decided to take his family and flee. He brought his wife, nine children, two daughters-in-law and one grandchild to the UNRWA run Abu Hussein School in Jabalia Camp. It seemed all of Beit Lahiya was there seeking shelter in the school. Conditions were bad, not enough food, blankets or mattresses for the overcrowded population.

On 7 January, Osama decided to return to his house in al-Amal, Beit Lahiya, to collect some clothes, food and blankets for himself and his family. He decided to bring the two youngest children, believing the soldiers wouldn’t shoot at him if he had young children with him. Luai (9) and Huda (11) were scared, but he reassured them that they would be safe. On their journey, they met their relatives Mahmoud Abu Laila (14) and Husam Sobuh (11), who were going home for the same reason. Reaching al-Amal, they found all the residents had fled: “We reached the neighbourhood at around 7:45am and found it completely empty. No one was there except for some fighters in the alleyways, side-roads and under trees. An Israeli drone plane was circling overhead; I felt it was flying above us and watching us.” Osama remembers.

Having reached their houses, they gathered what they needed and reconvened to start the journey back to the school together. Osama made a white flag for Luai to wave as they walked, and they set off around 8:00am. Only 150 metres from the house, Osama got a phone call: “As we were walking back, my son Rajab called me to ask me to bring the small cooker to boil milk for his little son Raed because there was no gas in the school.” He tried to convince Luai to go back but he refused, so he installed the children in the empty house, fearing the drone plane overhead would launch an attack if they stayed on the street. “I left the children and told them I wouldn’t be long. I left the bags with them. Huda followed me. I had walked for about 30 metres when I heard a huge explosion from the drone plane. I turned around and saw thick white smoke coming from the house … where the children were. Huda was thrown to the ground…”

As he tried to run back to Huda and the rest of the children, an Apache helicopter overhead started firing, forcing him to run in the opposite direction. He took shelter in a neighbour’s house: “I stood at the door and looked at my daughter whose left arm had been injured. She was crawling towards me. She was shouting; “Please help me father,” but I couldn’t do anything except wait for her to crawl to me because the Apache helicopter was still hovering in the sky and firing on the street.” Huda managed to reach the house, where she was taken inside and treated by the women of the house.

Osama waited by the door for the Apache helicopter to stop firing and leave, so he could go to his children in the empty house, 50 metres away. As he waited, the drone plane attacked again: “I saw something flying in the air and falling on the street. I looked at the street and saw thick smoke coming out of the house; a few seconds later, as the smoke started to clear and I saw a half body of one of the children thrown on the street.”

An hour after the first attack, the Apache left and Osama managed to reach his children: “Once I entered the first floor, I saw my son Luai on the floor. He wasn’t moving. His face, eyes, chest and left arm were bleeding. His left arm was completely blown off. Mahmoud was beside him. He was also unconscious and his stomach was bleeding. I saw legs beside them and I assumed they were Husam’s legs. The rest of Husam’s body was on the street. The stench of smoke, explosives, and burned flesh filled the air. I saw small pieces of flesh and bones glued to the walls and the ceiling. They were pieces of flesh and bones of Husam’s dismembered body.”

Osama and other neighbours gathered the children and found an ambulance to rush them to hospital. Luai was transferred to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and later to a Saudi hospital for treatment. He was left completely blind and is in need of plastic surgery for injuries to his arm. Huda also sustained injuries to her. Husam was brought directly to the morgue.

Speaking to DCI the following November, Osama explains that Luai has changed a lot. He has been enrolled in a school for the blind and his grades have been badly affected. He is angry all the time and fights with everyone. Osama is finding it hard to fund his treatment. He has heard of a procedure in the United States that could restore his sight. He hopes some organisation or individual will donate the money to help his son. Huda and Mahmoud have recovered physically, but Huda has been badly traumatized by the event.