Dodging Israel’s bombs in Gaza


GAZA CITY, Gaza (JTA) — At street level, the buzzing from Israel’s drones is audible, often followed by loud blasts that shake the buildings.

Some residents have opened their windows while others have removed them completely to keep the glass from shattering while Israeli jets pound Hamas targets in Gaza.

The streets remained deserted, the shops are closed and residents are hiding indoors.

On Saturday, when an Israeli missile struck a high-rise building near the presidential compound where senior Hamas political leader Ahmed Yousef works, the explosion shattered the glass windows and lobby of an adjacent apartment building, the Beirut Towers, where many U.N. staff, diplomats and journalists live.

The smoke mushroomed around the buildings as terrified bystanders ran for cover to avoid large pieces of falling debris.

U.N. jeeps rushed to the scene to collect employees, who later were relocated to the compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA.

As the bombs continued to fall on Sunday and Monday, Ghassan, a restaurant owner in Gaza City, tried to fortify the glass areas of his business so they wouldn’t shatter.

“My two- and six-year old daughters were in shock from the bombing — shaking, crying and terrified to be alone,” said Ghassan, 35.

He said he believes Israel is intent on toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza.

“Israel targeted the security headquarters of Hamas to try and remove them from power,” he said. “Israel felt threatened because of Hamas’ success in securing Gaza, so they targeted the civil police to try and destabilize their forces.”

As schools closed for an official three-day mourning period, Moavia and his wife Alona huddled at home with their two children, keeping them as far away as possible from the windows.

The family lives in Rimal, a residential area near Saraya, Hamas’ main security compound and prison in Gaza City, which Israel destroyed on Saturday. The family was at home when the missiles struck, shattering the windows and doors of their house.

“We coached the children to move away from the windows and stay near the walls during the attacks,” Moavia said.

Israel’s operation in Gaza, which as of Monday had left more than 300 Palestinians dead, is aimed at stemming Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli communities in the south. After an informal, six-month cease-fire between Hamas and Israel expired on Dec. 19, Hamas resumed its bombardment of Israeli communities. At least four Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian-fired rockets since the IDF operation began on Saturday.

Moavia is in favor of keeping up the rocket fire on Israel, but he said militants should target Israeli military, not civilian, targets.

As for the Palestinian leadership, Moavia said, “We need a new government, not the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas.”

Other Gaza City residents said Israel clearly is to blame for the latest conflagration. They point out that Israel sealed Gaza’s borders in early November after Palestinian militants responded with rocket fire to an Israeli military incursion into Gaza. The IDF described the incursion as a counter-terrorist operation, and said it destroyed several arms-smuggling tunnels. Hamas and its supporters saw the incursion — and Israel’s subsequent closure of Gaza’s borders — as a violation of the cease-fire.

Israel allowed some aid into Gaza during the closure, and it continues to allow some humanitarian aid to reach the strip even as the IDF operation, Cast Lead, continues.

“We suffered during the ceasefire because the crossings were closed,” Tamer, a grocery store owner in Gaza City, said. “No supplies, not even milk, came to my store. The refrigerators were empty.”

This week, Tamer decided to open his store despite the danger so residents could stock up on food items. “As a store, we can’t solely purchase goods smuggled through tunnels; we need regular trade,” Tamer said.

Israel’s bombardment has aggravated the problem of rolling blackouts across Gaza, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity. For residents of high-rise apartment buildings that use electric water pumps, that also means no water for the duration.

As the casualty tally rose above 300 on Monday, Gaza’s main hospital, Al-Shifa, was overwhelmed. Bodies piled up outside the hospital while makeshift intensive care units were put together to cope with the flood of emergency cases. The hospital was also short on blood for transfusions.

“Ten additional operating rooms were opened, and we began sending victims to other hospitals for treatment after all beds were full,” hospital director Dr. Hussein Ashur said.

Ghassan, the restaurant owner, blamed Hamas for failing to make the transition from a “resistance movement” to a political party after winning Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and seizing control of Gaza in June 2007.

With Gaza under bombardment, he said, “this is not the time for resistance against the superpower Israel.”

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