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Gaza families bear brunt of ‘pinpoint strikes’

Palestinians look at the damaged house of a cousin of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA: The Israeli military’s “pinpoint strikes” on houses in Gaza have killed whole families and children but few of the wanted men they are meant to target because they have long made themselves scarce, Palestinian residents say.

After six days of cross-border barrages between Gaza militants and Israel, at least 130 of the 166 Palestinians who have been killed were civilians, including 35 children, Palestinian medical officials say.

While relatively few militants and even fewer of their commanders have been killed, according to Hamas sources and media reports, Israel appears more determined than in previous wars to bring the fight to their homes in the densely populated enclave hugging the Mediterranean coast.

Kin, neighbors and others who deny any ties to militants have been most often in the firing line of Israel’s assaults.

“I still can’t believe this happened, it’s like a bad dream,” said Shadi Hamad, standing in the demolished courtyard of a family home with tearful relatives.

“It was 11 at night and the family had just sat down in a circle for coffee in the front porch after breaking the Ramadan fast. The missile landed in the middle. Everyone was killed,” he said.

The airstrike was targeting Hafez Hamad, a local commander in the Islamic Jihad militant group, and killed him, as well as his parents, two brothers and niece.

“Where were their human rights, which Israel and its backers say they defend?” said Bassam Qassem, a neighbor. “Even if he [Hamad] was a resistance fighter, does that allow them to kill his whole family? This is murder.”

For their part, nervous Israeli civilians have for days had to heed warning sirens to seek shelter from Palestinian rockets, around 700 of which have been lobbed from Gaza since Tuesday. They have so far caused no Israeli fatalities, but some injuries and damage.

Israel disavows any responsibility for the Gaza deaths, saying Hamas stows its people and weapons among civilians and hopes to score a cheap sympathy boost from their deaths.

“We are using all our attacking capabilities, not without brains, reason – not without taking into consideration that there are also civilians in Gaza. We remember that there are civilians. Hamas has turned them into hostages,” Israeli military chief Lieut.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Friday.

“We continue to attack – as best we can – rockets, command centers, tunnels, munitions and defense infrastructure and Gaza is sinking into a tragedy,” Gantz said.

Early Saturday, two disabled women were killed and four other people seriously wounded when an Israeli tank shell struck a rehabilitation center in the eastern part of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said.

Residents also said a mosque in the central Gaza Strip was bombed to rubble. The military said it had housed a weapons cache.

Israel says it has attacked more than a thousand targets in the coastal territory since the recent fighting began.

The Gazan Interior Ministry told Reuters that over 200 family homes have been targeted since the Israeli campaign began, many belonging to police officers and militants but only around 15 belonging to high-ranking commanders.

According to the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Association for Human Rights, 537 houses – 122 of them targeted directly – have been either completely or partially damaged by Israeli airstrikes since Tuesday.

Palestinians think the attacks are meant to sow panic and drive a wedge between them and the militants.

“They can’t find any targets in this war because they’re hidden, so they’ve just decided to punish innocent people. ... Do you see any resistance fighters here? ... They’ve gone underground days ago, disappeared,” said Aziz Abu Awdeh in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

“This is terrorism in every meaning of the word. Killing family members and ordinary people just brings us closer together. ... Resistance is our right, any people in the world would defend themselves from this.”

Israel’s military has published grainy aerial footage it says shows arms caches nestled among homes. It claims that, when struck by a missile, the alleged caches detonate “secondary explosions.”

Outgoing rockets often appear to scream forth from near residential districts, though Hamas denies Israeli claims that it uses people as “human shields.”

In Beit Hanoun’s main hospital Wednesday, nearby rocket fire and air strikes brought casualties pouring in. One father, comforting his bruised young son, said an outgoing rocket launch had sent the boy flying across a room.

Israel says it regularly gives warnings to residents by phone calls, text messages and dud missiles launched on their roofs to warn them in advance of attacks, but Gazans say there is not enough time to evacuate or warnings simply don’t come.

The Israeli military described a strike on the home of the Kaware family in which eight people died as a “tragic mistake,” saying residents had not heeded their warning. The army did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on their targeting policies.

A rushed voice crackled over the Gaza police radio frequency Friday, reporting an airstrike on a family house in Beit Hanoun.

The sole victim was Saher Abu Namous, 4, who lay with his head blown open on a steel gurney in the local morgue. The medic wrapped his plump limbs in a shroud and prepared to enclose him in a refrigerator.

Nearby, hundreds of neighbors gathered spontaneously around a household that had received a phone call from the Israeli military warning that a strike was imminent.

Hamas’ official radio station cautioned residents to stay away: “Please be warned that surveillance drones and an Apache helicopter are still in the area. Stay well away.”

Israel’s military says it has aborted planned attacks when neighbors gather in numbers to defend homes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 14, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

The Israeli military's "pinpoint strikes" on houses in Gaza have killed whole families and children but few of the wanted men they are meant to target because they have long made themselves scarce, Palestinian residents say.

After six days of cross-border barrages between Gaza militants and Israel, at least 130 of the 166 Palestinians who have been killed were civilians, including 35 children, Palestinian medical officials say.

Early Saturday, two disabled women were killed and four other people seriously wounded when an Israeli tank shell struck a rehabilitation center in the eastern part of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said.

The Israeli military described a strike on the home of the Kaware family in which eight people died as a "tragic mistake," saying residents had not heeded their warning.

A rushed voice crackled over the Gaza police radio frequency Friday, reporting an airstrike on a family house in Beit Hanoun.

Nearby, hundreds of neighbors gathered spontaneously around a household that had received a phone call from the Israeli military warning that a strike was imminent.

Israel's military says it has aborted planned attacks when neighbors gather in numbers to defend homes.


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