Gazans mark Muslim festival in fear amid heavy Israeli air strikes

·3 min read
A Palestinian looks for his belongings in the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City - Anadolu
A Palestinian looks for his belongings in the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City - Anadolu

Palestinians in Gaza marked Eid sombrely on Thursday as Israeli air strikes pounded the besieged coastal enclave for the fourth day.

As Muslims worldwide began celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival concluding the fasting month of Ramadan, Palestinian militants continued firing rockets deep into Israel – over 1,600 so far, according to the Israelis.

For many families in Gaza there was none of the usual shopping for new clothes and few family feasts to celebrate Eid, normally a festive event on a par with Christmas.

“There is no Eid today,” said Ahed Mortaja, a 52-year-old shopkeeper who was forgoing his customary early morning Eid trip to the mosque with his sons for prayers.

“Ramadan ended this year but we are just staying home to watch the news, hoping to hear about a ceasefire,” he said.

In the absence of air raid shelters, many families huddled in corridors, away from windows, which were left ajar to prevent shockwaves shattering the glass.

“I am scared to death, I’m afraid to even go to the bathroom,” said Najwa El-Halabi, a 40-year-old civil servant.

“My little daughter Yomana panics and her legs shake from terror during bombings,” she said. “I try to calm her although I myself am scared, she can’t sleep at all because of the explosions.”

For eight-year-olds in Gaza, this is their second conflict, for teenagers their fourth. In the southern town of Khan Younis on Thursday, a funeral procession carried the bodies of an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old killed when an Israeli airstrike hit near their home a day earlier.

Gaza's Health Ministry said 18 children are among the 87 Palestinians killed since Monday.

Islamic Jihad said seven of its fighters have died, while Hamas – the Islamist militant group that seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007 – acknowledged that a commander and several other members have been killed.

Israel says the number of militants killed is much greater.

“I don’t think that the civilian casualties are high,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said on Wednesday, saying that many of the dead were combatants, some of whom “we know by name”.

“The rest may be civilians, it remains to be confirmed,” he added.

The Israeli military says it uses various techniques to prevent civilian casualties, including firing warning shots, which Lt Col Conricus called “roof knocking”.

“We do the utmost to minimise collateral damage,” he said.

But some Gazans have questioned the strategic value of many of the targets, including three high-rise buildings toppled since Monday.

Two hours before airstrikes destroyed the 13-storey Hanadi Tower in Gaza’s upscale port neighbourhood on Tuesday, Israeli intelligence called ahead to warn the guard to evacuate the building, according to Ayman Abu Rakan, a trainer who worked in the building’s gym.

“We don’t know why they targeted it,” he said. Israel said it was controlled by Hamas.

Gazans say the 600 Israeli air strikes on the densely populated strip since Monday represent the most intense bombing campaign they have ever endured.

Worse could be yet to come. Israeli troops were on Thursday night on the brink of crossing the border, raising fears that a full invasion could soon be afoot.

During the last incursion in 2014, an estimated 2,205 Palestinians died, including at least 1,483 civilians.

“God forbid, no one wants another invasion,” said Samar Al-Daya, a 43-year-old civil servant. “If there was, then there would be even more dead and injured.”

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