GAZA CITY: Arab states accused Israel yesterday of using ammunition containing depleted uranium in its 22-day war on Gaza as Tel Aviv said it would withdraw all its troops from the coastal strip by the time Barack Obama is inaugurated as president of the United States today.
In a letter on behalf of Arab ambassadors accredited in Austria, Prince Mansour Al-Saud, the Saudi ambassador, expressed “our deep concern regarding the information ... that traces of depleted uranium have been found in Palestinian victims.” The letter requested the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei, to urgently “carry out a radiological and physical assessment in order to verify the presence of depleted uranium in the weaponry used by Israel ... in the Gaza Strip.”
Officials at the Israeli mission to the IAEA said they were in no position to comment without having seen the letter. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming confirmed receipt of the letter and said a response might be issued later.
An IAEA article on the use of depleted uranium says: “There is a risk of developing cancer from exposure to radiation emitted by ... depleted uranium. This risk is assumed to be proportional to the dose received.”
At least 1,310 Palestinians, over 400 of them children, were killed and 5,400 injured in the war. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the civilian deaths were a “product of circumstance.” “We had to carry out this operation. I am at peace with the fact that we did it,” Livni told Israel Radio. As a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took hold, Gaza residents began picking up the pieces of the lives they led before the Israeli onslaught began Dec. 27.
Israeli tanks had been stationed on the rim of Gaza City, and destruction there was heavy. Tank shells turned some buildings into heaps of concrete while the tanks themselves rammed into the sides of others, peeling off pieces. Orange and olive groves were flattened.
Further inside the city, the Parliament building and other targets of Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships were reduced to piles of debris. Destruction in some areas left streets that resembled a moonscape.
Bulldozers cleared rubble from streets and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said the total repair bill would be at least $1.9 billion. A source in the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip said 5,000 homes, 16 government buildings and 20 mosques were destroyed and 20,000 houses damaged.
EU official Benita Ferrero-Waldner suggested that international help in rebuilding Gaza could come if the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returned to the territory. The European Union classifies Hamas, which rules Gaza, as a terrorist organization and refuses to deal with it.
Israel intends to exert control over the reconstruction of Gaza. Western diplomats said Israel has asked the United Nations and other aid groups to provide a detailed list of goods, equipment and personnel that they want to bring into the Gaza Strip, both to meet immediate needs and for rebuilding.
Israel told the aid groups it would consider expanding the list of materials authorized to enter the Gaza Strip. Before the war, Israel blocked entry of most cement, steel and cash, saying Hamas used them for bunkers, rockets and to pay militia salaries.
— With input from agencies