Gaza’s bomb disposal team is at risk, weak protection | Gaza News

Gaza City Gaza- On May 19, shortly after midnight, a reconnaissance missile penetrated the roof of Rafa Muhaleb’s home in the besieged southern Gaza Strip.

Two minutes later, an Israeli warplane dropped another missile. The missile penetrated two floors of the house, but it did not explode somehow.

“My brother and his family who lived on the second floor were both injured by the reconnaissance missile,” Vasim Muhareb told Al Jazeera. “My four-month-old baby was in a coma for two days. My eight-year-old niece, Layan, spent 10 days in the intensive care unit with burns all over her body.”

The enlarged Muhareb family home, inhabited by 36 adults and children, was destroyed. The second missile hit one of the children’s bedrooms before landing on the first floor.

“No warning,” Waseem said, and his family now lives in a rented house nearby. “The whole ordeal happened within three minutes.”

Winged clearance missiles widely used by Israeli military aircraft in their recent aggression against Gaza
[Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Risks and dangers

The next day, the bomb disposal team arrived and cleared the remains of unexploded ordnance and reconnaissance bombs.

The team is under the Ministry of the Interior. Since Israel began its 11-day bombing of the coastal enclave on May 10, it has performed 1,200 missions to neutralize, dismantle and destroy unexploded warheads and dangerous ordnance in residential areas of Gaza.

The escalation of violence occurred after the Israeli army suppressed protesters in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. Hamas, the Palestinian organization that rules Gaza, issued an ultimatum, demanding that the Israeli army withdraw from the area around the Holy Land, which is also sacred to the Jews, and they call it the Temple Mount.

After the ultimatum expired, Hamas launched several rockets into Jerusalem, and Israel launched an air strike on Gaza shortly afterwards. According to health authorities, the Israeli bombing lasted 11 days and killed at least 260 Palestinians, including 66 children. Rockets fired by armed groups in Gaza killed at least 13 people in Israel. Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire on May 21.

The bombing of Gaza caused Widespread destruction Infrastructure, including the destruction of 1,800 housing units, 74 public buildings, 53 educational facilities and 33 media offices. The damage to the desalination plant also prevented more than 250,000 Palestinians from obtaining clean drinking water.

Captain Mohamed Mekdad, an explosives engineer at the Gaza Interior Ministry, told Al Jazeera that despite the lack of important protective equipment, the 70-person bomb disposal team has had no casualties during its work since May 10th.

“The team does not have a protective vest or high-tech equipment that can reveal the presence of explosives,” Meqdad said. “They only have simple equipment, such as a toolbox that can be found in almost every household.”

The engineer said that under Israel’s 13-year severe blockade of Gaza, the protective equipment used by the Gaza bomb disposal team was barred from entering.

Meqdad said that during the Israeli offensive, the main risk associated with this work was that the team could become a target.

“The second risk is the type of ammunition delivered by Israel, how dangerous they are, and whether the designated technician can use the basic equipment he has to measure all of these,” Meqdad said.

The final step in the process of collecting and eliminating unexploded ordnance is to transfer them to the central warehouse in Rafah in preparation for destruction.

Meqdad said that the recent offensive witnessed the first use of a new type of weapon in the Gaza Strip, the GBU-31 and GBU-39 Joint Direct Attack Ammunition (JDAM) explosive. This two-ton explosive was developed for penetrating heavily guarded military sites and used to level residential apartments and high-rise buildings for commercial and media offices.

Captain Mohammed Meqdad shows the remains of the Israeli warhead that exploded in the Abu al-Ouf building during the attack on Wehda Street [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Training and field experience

The bomb disposal team was established in 1996 when the Palestinian Authority ruled Gaza. The first team was taught by American experts. In 2006, engineers and technicians were added to strengthen the team.

Following the deadly Israel of 2008-2009 attack In Gaza, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has started operations in addition to training bomb disposal teams from the Ministry of the Interior.

From 2014 to 2020, the Mine Action Service responded to 876 explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) requests, directly dismantled and destroyed 150 large aerial bombs, containing 29,500 kilograms of explosives, and supported the clearance of 7,340 explosive remnants of war (ERW).

Meqdad said that the new members of the bomb disposal team received training from existing employees based on their own years of experience in the field.

“In the past 10 to 11 years, no one has left Gaza to receive training outside of Gaza,” he said.

An exhibition showing Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) is on display at the headquarters of the Explosive Engineering Corps in Gaza City [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

“Every day may be your last day”

Assad Alur, who has been the head of the bomb disposal team for the past eight years, said that their work is the most dangerous in the security sector, which includes the police and internal security agencies.

“Choosing to work in this field is our choice and a mark of our honor, because we eliminate any harm and danger that threaten our citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Just working in explosives engineering means you are a martyr,” he added. “Each day you leave your job may mean your last day on earth, because any mistake means that this will be the last mistake you made — no exceptions.”

3 bomb disposal team technicians in 2014 Was killedIn addition, a foreign journalist and a Palestinian translator appeared on the scene after trying to dismantle a missile in northern Gaza.

Despite the risks involved in this job, al-Aloul said he did not consider stopping work.

“Knowing all these risks, who else will take over and protect our children from harm or death?” he said. “We strive to provide a better future for the next generation so that they do not have to endure amputations caused by missile or bomb explosions.”

“Every day you see death, but the savior is God. It is an honor to sacrifice while defending our people.”

Palestinian children play on an unexploded Israeli missile that was destroyed by a bomb disposal team [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

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