visible debris

Israel strike on Gaza school kills 15, 200 wounded
July 25, 2014

International scrutiny of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip intensified on Thursday when more than 15 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in a strike on a UN school in northern Gaza crowded with hundreds of displaced civilians.

Most of the injured were women and children. Among the dead was a mother and her one-year-old baby. UN staff had been attempting to organise the school’s evacuation when the attack took place.

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, condemned the attack, which came hours after the agency had warned that Israel’s actions in the Palestinian enclave could constitute war crimes. “Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop and to stop now,” Ban said.

The Israeli military first claimed, in a text sent to journalists, that the school could have been hit by Hamas missiles that fell short. Later, a series of tweets from the Israel Defence Forces appeared to confirm the deaths were the result of an Israeli strike.

“Today Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire.”

“Last night, we told Red Cross to evacuate civilians from UNRWA’s shelter in Beit Hanoun btw 10am & 2pm. UNRWA & Red Cross got the message. Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that we gave them.”

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works agency said there had earlier been “firing around the compound” and his organisation had asked the Israeli army for time to evacuate civilians. “We spent much of the day trying to negotiate or to coordinate a window so that civilians, including our staff, could leave. That was never granted … and the consequences of that appear to be tragic.” Gunness said the Israeli military were supplied with coordinates of UN schools where those displaced were sheltering. UN sources told the Guardian a call was placed to the Israeli military at 10.55am requesting permission to evacuate but their call was not returned.

The deaths in Beit Hanoun raised the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict that began on 8 July to at least 751. Israel has lost 32 soldiers – all since 17 July, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation – and three civilians.

Hours after the attack, a trail of bloody footprints could be seen crossing a deserted playground littered with abandoned possessions. There were pools of blood both inside and outside the school building; more blood splashed over wooden school desks.

The Israeli military, which said it was “reviewing the incident”, claimed the incident had occurred during “heavy combat” in the area and accused “terrorists” of “using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields”.

Although missiles belonging to Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups in Gaza do sometimes fall short, there was no visible evidence of debris from broken Palestinian rockets in the school. The injuries and the number of fatalities were consistent with a powerful explosion that sent shrapnel tearing through the air, in some cases causing traumatic amputations.

The surrounding neighbourhood bore evidence of multiple Israeli attacks, including smoke from numerous artillery rounds and air strikes. One building was entirely engulfed by flames.

Thursday’s assault on the school – one of the grimmest incidents of the war – occurred at about 2.50pm as the playground was crowded with families waiting to be ferried to safety. According to survivors, one shell landed in the schoolyard followed by several more rounds that hit the upper stories of the building.

Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other, waiting for news of relatives. A shell exploded about 50 metres from the hospital building as they waited.

Nour Hamid, 17, was hoping for news of her sister. As she attempted to comfort her terrified nephew, she said: “We were packing up to leave when the attack happened. We were standing outside when they started hitting us, some of the women holding their babies. My sister-in-law was one of the injured. There were bodies everywhere, most of them women and children.”

Laila al-Shinbari told Reuters: “All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids.”

Sabah Kafarna, 35, had also been sheltering at the school. “At about 11.30 someone from the municipality came to tell us that we were going to be moved because it was too dangerous. But the buses didn’t come. That’s why [there were] so many people all outside when the shells landed,” she said. “The shells came one after the other. I was inside by the windows when they smashed.”

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Skinwalker

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly superstitious person. Ok sure, I get a kick out of the horoscope once in a while, my boyfriend and I like to humor the idea that spirits and poltergeists exist and how we’d haunt people when we died and came back as ghosts. In fact, my boyfriend refuses to go anywhere near an Ouija Board. Refuses to even think of it. I blame all the crummy horror movies he watches.
“Why even tempt it?” he’d say. “Why would you want to taunt evil ghosts like that? Ghosts never play fair and if you piss one off you’re screwed!”
I don’t think he was ever serious. Just precautionary.
But maybe he was right.
God, this all happened so long ago, but I’m still shaken. Can barely write about it now without my nerves acting up.
Ok, here it goes. A few weeks ago my mom, sis, and I went to Colorado for an entire week on vacation. We were going to drive all over the state, visit parks and go horseback riding and whitewater rafting and so much more. I was excited. And I sorely needed a break from work, anyway.
We drove 16 hours out there, and spent our first day rafting down the rivers. After an exciting day we drove to a ranch house to go horseback riding. We got there at sunset, so it was too late to ride, but we had all next day to ride the trails and see the sights. The ranch was … dumpy. All run-down with scraps of steel everywhere and the shoddy cabins that we were staying in were in desperate need for repair. I swear the roof over our shack of a cabin was a giant piece of drywall with shingles stapled to the top. My sister and I thoroughly checked the place for spiders and bugs before we even thought of bringing our luggage inside.
It was only for the night, I reassured myself. Just one night in a dumpy shack on a rock-hard bed that probably had bed bugs under the sheets. I shuddered at the thought.
My mom tried to cheer us up. She had brought skewers and a pack of giant beef hot dogs to roast over the communal fire pit. Happy to get out of the shack, my sister and I made a nice cozy fire, and soon a few other people from the other cabins came out to sit around the fire and roast s’mores and share stories. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, and our adventures along the way. Pretty soon the stories turned into tall tales and urban legends and the sort of stuff you’d usually tell around a bonfire.
That’s when I spoke up. I loved stories, especially scary ones. And hey, we’re out west, we’re in Native American territory, why not liven the place up with my favorite Indian myth, the legend of the Skinwalkers.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Skinwalkers are considered very evil, very dangerous beings. They were humans who gained the ability to take on the form of an animal by wearing its skin, usually through very dark and taboo magic. I knew all this, and told my story. Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?
Everyone seemed to be enjoying it. I admit I took some creative liberties with it, really just retelling an old werewolf story but with a skinwalker instead. I bullshitted a lot of the story, really, and added a few things that weren’t in the mythos at all. I gave our beloved frightening skinwalker wide, crazed eyes with pinpoints for pupils with a matching insane smile. I made the skinwalker horribly misshapen with swollen joints and arms that were too long and legs that were too short and a head that never sat straight on its shoulders. I made it as terrifying as I could imagine.
No one minded. They actually really liked it and a man from Kentucky admitted the visuals alone were enough to creep him out. Victory in my book, if you ask me. And once I was done everyone decided it was getting really late, our firewood was dwindling and it was as good a time as any to turn in for the night. We packed up our skewers and s’mores, doused the fire, and headed to our little shacks.
I tossed and turned a lot trying to fall asleep. Couldn’t get comfortable on that damn bed. A rock was probably cozier than that mattress. So against my better judgment, I got out of bed, and walked about the cabin. I reasoned that if I stayed up late enough, I would be so tired that I would fall asleep no matter what I was laying on. I think I briefly contemplated sleeping on the floor. I wasn’t that desperate yet.
It was pitch-black outside. No lights from any nearby street lamps, no car headlights, hell, not even the cabin lights were on. And I don’t remember seeing a single star. It was a bit creepy, but I shrugged off the shiver creeping up my back as simply the cold tile floor making me shake.
I did, however, find it odd there weren’t any lights on at all on the property. You’d think there’d be a floodlight on the horse stables or on the main office, but no, nothing. This was really weird. I stepped outside in my flimsy foam flip flops to get a better look. I could barely make out the ranch. And for some stupid fucking reason I decided to go walking around.
Eventually my eyes adjusted where I could see well enough to move around. I paced up and down the road where the cabins sat and circled around to the fenced in field where the horses were out grazing. Except there weren’t any horses. Probably in the stables for the night, I reasoned. I shivered again. It was getting awfully cold.
I turned right around to head back to my own cabin. It was stupid of me to be out all alone at an obscene hour, I had realized. I needed to get to bed.
But when I turned, there was something in the middle of the road. Its shape was swallowed up by the surrounding darkness; I could barely make it out. It was tall and thin. I shrugged it off as just a pole or something else and kept walking but then it moved.
I froze. My breath caught in my throat and I could barely breathe. I just imagined that, I said. I just imagined it, I’m freaking myself out, get your fucking head straight!
It moved again. My paralyzed throat managed to squeak out a pathetically weak whimper as my legs began to lose strength. I shivered violently against a cold that was building up inside of me.
My eyes began to focus on the impossibly dark figure standing against a barely visible sleet grey night. Now I could see it. It was … it was a person, but like nothing I had ever seen before.
Its arms were impossibly long. Its legs impossibly short. It had a torso far too long for its rail thin body and a head much too big for its stick neck.
Its right arm was sticking out to its side, swinging up and down. Its blockish head, rolled onto its left shoulder, jerkily twitched up and down, up and down. It didn’t move other than that, just stood there, twitching, arms jerking up and down, head lolling around its shoulder. I still stood there like the dumbfuck I was. My cabin was a few hundred yards behind that … thing. And I wasn’t so stupid as to try to walk past it. My only option was to go around, behind the cabins and the stables and hope it didn’t see me.
I forced myself to lift my foot off the ground to step backwards. My flipflop made a wet smacking sound as it flopped against my feet and I immediately froze in horror. The thing stopped too. It stood there perfectly straight, perfectly still, listening. I stayed as still as I could. My breath was shallow and panicked and I tried to force myself to slow my breathing before I started wheezing. My heart thundered in my chest, my whole body was shaking. But I didn’t move. Neither did it.
I began to slowly, so goddamn slowly, bend over and slipped my feet out of those fucking flip-flops. My feet touched the dirt and the crumbly gravel, but at least now I could move silently. I spared a quick glance to the side to see where I was going. Two cabins were immediately to my right. I could slip between them with ease, as there was no visible debris between them.
I only looked away for a second. When I turned back that fucking thing was gone. It was fucking gone, it fucking knew I was there, it was coming for me, oh fuck! Yet I still couldn’t fucking move! I was paralyzed, I couldn’t move no matter how loud my head screamed run run RUN YOU FUCK, RUN! I heard something behind me. I turned instinctively, even though I knew fucking better I still turned the fuck around!
I was greeted with two bulging eyes, oh fuck, its eyes! Staring at me unblinking with two black pinholes for pupils and an insane smile that was stretched far too wide to be anything remotely human.
My paralysis broke as I stared at that fucking thing. I ran, I fucking ran, crying my eyes out, trying to scream but a horrible lead weight in my throat silenced me. My feet pounded on the dirt, I stomped over anything in my way, I even impaled my foot on a sharp motherfucking rock, I didn’t fucking care I just fucking ran!
I felt the cold creeping up my back, oh god, that cold! It was sinking right into my bones and I couldn’t stop shaking or sobbing and I didn’t stop until I burst through the cabin doors and dead bolted the lock and leaped into my bed. I huddled under the blankets, hiding my head and there I gasped and shook for breath.
And I waited.
I didn’t sleep that entire night. I was too scared, I couldn’t get rid of that chill. All I thought about was that thing … standing there and twitching …
Morning finally broke and I finally allowed breath of relief. Whatever I had seen had not come for me, and now that it was light it couldn’t take me by surprise. Mom noticed my bleeding foot, and the blood I tracked through the cabin. I shrugged it off, said I cut myself the night before when we were making s’mores. I don’t think she believed me but she didn’t push it.
We left not long after that. And as we left I looked at the place where that thing once stood and I shuddered again. But there was nothing. I assured myself, there was nothing.
We said good-bye to the ranchers and to our companions, and I noticed the man from Kentucky who said had thoroughly enjoyed my story. He told me again how much he liked it. Said he was going to tell it to his own kids when he got home. They really liked scary stories, he said.
And as we drove away, his head rolled onto his left shoulder, and he smiled a wide, insane smile as he waved us good-bye …