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No escape for civilians in Gaza

Al-Monitor reports from the scene of several bombings as Israel's bombardment of Gaza's civilian areas continues.

GAZA CITY/RAFAH, Gaza Strip — All one can do in the Gaza Strip these days is count how many children have been killed by Israel’s attacks. Four such children — Ismail Bakr, 9, Atef Bakr, 10, Zachariah Bakr, 10, and Mohammed Bakr, 11 — were killed on July 16 as they were playing on the beach. The number of children killed stands, at the time of writing, at 53 from a total number of 237 martyrs and more than 1,700 injured since Israel launched its war on July 8.

Al-Monitor arrived at the scene as soon as the shelling of the beach was heard. We were close to the area where the children were playing and saw the ambulances transporting their bodies, which had been lying on the sand scattered like broken dolls minutes before.

Soon after, international press reporters gathered to take photos and videos. They were nearby as this area of the beach is located in between hotels where hundreds of foreign journalists who have come to cover the war on Gaza are staying and working from.

Eyewitness Mohammed Bakr, 17, told Al-Monitor, “First, they bombed the marine police site close to where the children were playing. When they started running, a second bomb was fired, killing four of them and injuring a fifth.”

According to locals in the area, the Bakr family is a large family that lives near the seaport. Most of its members are fishermen and work in manufacturing fishing nets. The children usually play on the beach, either collecting small crabs or playing soccer.

The targeting of civilian areas by Israeli forces comes as its air force intensifies its bombardment of Gaza City's center, a densely populated area where it is unavoidable to inflict civilian casualties. The bombing of central Gaza City has become more frequent in the past three days, as truce efforts proposed by Egypt have broken down.

US-made Apache helicopters returned to the skies above the city on July 17, seemingly alleviating F-16s and reconnaissance drones that have played a leading role in the aggression. Drawing on the experience of previous wars, Apache helicopters are specialized in targeting apartments in high-rise residential towers, while F-16s destroy entire buildings.

This is exactly what happened when Apache helicopters shelled the eighth floor of the Daoud residential tower in front of my second-floor home in Beit Anan. After the shelling ceased, my father and I went out onto the balcony to see what had happened. The helicopter launched another missile. I only saw a passing light, then I heard a loud blast. I tried to go back inside, but it was difficult since the blast was so strong that it threw me to the ground.

I remember that I called out to my father amid the fear and darkness. We were disoriented, and couldn’t see amid the dust and smoke. Luckily, the cries of my brothers and cousins, who had fled their homes to take shelter in ours, as we are located in the city center, directed us toward them. We then gathered more than 13 people in the room that is the farthest from the neighboring apartment that was shelled. We calmed each other down, and especially my mother, who had undergone a heart operation after the 2008-2009 war. I suffered an injury to my knee because of the splinters of scattered glass, and the pain in my ears lasted until well after the bombing stopped.

I thought about the families who live their last minutes while dying under the rubble of their own homes.

This is what happened with Ghaliya Ghannam, 57, a mother who was covered with tons of stones and metal, after Israeli occupation warplanes struck her home in Rafah on the morning of July 11.

Al-Monitor visited the ruins of the Ghannam residence in Rafah shortly after the Israeli strike. The inhabitants of the area gathered around the dredges that were removing the remains of the Ghannam family. The owner of the home, Abdel Razeq, 60, was killed under the rubble. He is the uncle of a fighter in Al-Quds Brigades, Jihad Ghannam, whose home is not very far away. One of the kids who had gathered around said, “The aircraft shelled the wrong home.”

The piles of rubble prevented us from crossing the road to the other home of the Ghannam family. One of the kids had to lead us through the camp to the home that was partly destroyed. We went up to the fourth floor to meet Iyad Ghannam, 41.

“My brother Jihad is in charge in Al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of the jihadist movement, but he hasn’t been here since the Israeli aggression started. I have lost most of my family members — siblings, their sons and daughters — due to the Israeli shellings in the past invasions and wars. But we consider them martyrs in God’s care. Today, my uncle Adel Razeq and his family have been martyred,” he told Al-Monitor.

According to the surviving members of the Ghannam family, Kifah, 33, the sister of Jihad and Iyad, who is deaf and mute, died under the rubble on July 11. Abdel Razeq and his wife Ghaliya died along with their daughter Wissam, 31, and their son Mahmoud, 28. Meanwhile, neighbors managed to save their other son Hussam, 17, who is currently being treated in the European Gaza Hospital in south Gaza. Their daughters Nour and Soumoud were spending the night at a relative’s place, which saved their lives.

Iyad’s wife, Sabah, 34, cried bitterly and said, “Since 2000, we have been homeless, and we have been losing members of our family. I do not know when things will calm down. They shelled my uncle’s home, and they were going to shell our home, as it is their habit in every war.”

Israeli author Gideon Levy criticized in Haaretz newspaper what he calls the war against innocent civilians:

“It is the war of the elephant against a fly. The retired generals who are still effectively working are adopting a savage approach. Those include Maj. Gen. Oren Shachor, who said without blinking, 'If we kill their families, this will scare them.'”

This is no longer just about war crimes, but rather about the recurrence of crimes that no one seems willing to stop. The killing of children, the destruction of residential homes while inhabitants are inside, all these crimes classify as severe violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

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