Fri, Nov 04, 2005 - Page 6 News List

`Sound bombs' hurt Gaza civilians

SHOCKWAVES The tactic of jets creating sonic booms low over the homes of Palestinians has been attacked by doctors and UN officials as terrifying and indiscriminate

THE GUARDIAN , GAZA

Israel is deploying a terrifying new tactic against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by letting loose deafening "sound bombs" that cause widespread fear, induce miscarriages and traumatize children.

The removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip opened the way for the military to use air force jets to create dozens of sonic booms by breaking the sound barrier at low altitude, sending shockwaves across the territory, often at night.

Palestinians liken the sound to an earthquake or huge bomb. They describe the effect as being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and "leaving you shaking inside."

The Palestinian health ministry says the sonic booms have led to miscarriages and heart problems. The UN has demanded an end to the tactic, saying it causes panic attacks in children.

The shockwaves have also damaged buildings by cracking walls and smashing thousands of windows.

One of them blew in the glass of the Chairman Arafat shop in Gaza City.

"I have never heard such a loud explosion. I thought it was right over the top of my building," Chairman Arafat shopowner Tareq Dayyeh said.

"Sometimes you hear the rockets the Israelis fire but this was different. I felt like I was in the middle of a bomb. When I ran out the door I thought I might find the rest of the street was gone," he said.

Over the past week, Israeli jets created 28 sonic booms by flying at high speed and low altitude over the Gaza Strip, sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. During five days in late September, the air force caused 29 sonic booms.

Israel says that the aim is to break civilian support for armed Palestinian groups responsible for last week's suicide bombing, which killed five people, and mortar attacks.

The government argues that sound bombs are preferable to real ones.

But on Wednesday, two medical human-rights groups, one Israeli and one Palestinian, submitted a petition to the Tel Aviv high court demanding an end to the tactic on the grounds that it is a breach of international law and detrimental to health.

"The stress that is caused is phenomenal," said Eyad El Sarraj, a psychologist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, one of the groups filing the petition.

"The Israelis do it after midnight and then every one or two hours. You try to go to sleep and then there's another one. When it happens night after night you become exhausted. You get a heightened sense of alert, waiting continuously for it to happen. People suffer hypertension, fatigue, sleeplessness," he said.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency said that a majority of the patients seen at its clinics as a result of the sonic booms were under 16 years old and suffering from symptoms such as anxiety attacks, bedwetting, muscle spasms, temporary loss of hearing and breathing difficulties.

Although the Israelis say the shockwaves do not cause casualties, doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital said the overflights had forced women to miscarry.

The military was forced to apologize after one of the sonic booms was unintentionally heard hundreds of kilometers inside Israel last week.

Maariv newspaper described it as sounding "like a heavy bombardment. The noise that shook the Israeli skies was frightening. Thousands of citizens leapt in panic from their beds, and many of them placed worried calls to the police and the fire department. The Tel Aviv and central district police switchboards crashed."

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