Israeli bombing this morning destroyed one of the largest mosques in central Gaza, killing at least three Palestinians preparing for dawn prayers, including the father of a severely injured ten year old boy blinded in an earlier strike on their home a week ago.
Two bulldozers are searching through the mountain of rubble left by the F16 air strike on the Al Qassam mosque in the heart of the crowded Nusseirat refugee camp for the last of four men who had been in a room set aside for customary washing before prayers when the bomb struck shortly after 3am.
Among the three bodies recovered was that of Nidal Badran, 44, who had been desperately hoping that his son Mohammed, who is currently in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital suffering from serious cranio-facial injuries, including the loss of his sight, would be transferred for urgently needed surgery to Europe. Six others of Mr Badran’s children were also injured in the earlier strike.
With continuing deadlock in efforts to reach a peace deal, the air strike was one of 30 launched today by Israel, another of which killed two men on a motorcycle, and militants launched at least 15 rockets at towns in the south of Israel. A third Israeli strike on a Hamas security complex created a large cloud of smoke in Gaza city but caused no casualties.
The three men died unaware that a warning had been telephoned by the Israeli military to a local resident warning that the mosque was about to be destroyed and that they should leave their building immediately.
The local Imam Mohammed Ali Mousa, 45, said he had just arrived at the mosque after leaving home at around 3.05 am and that a neighbour had rushed into the mosque to warn him but that he had been unable to alert the other worshippers before leaving. “I was about four minutes away as it was bombed,” he added.
Yahya al-Tawil, 53, the resident who received the telephone call —and immediately alerted neighbours including his married brother— said that he had been fast asleep when the phone rang. “A man’s voice said in Arabic, using my name: ‘Yahya. This is Mousa from the Israeli Mukhabarat (intelligence). I want to warn you that you have five minutes to leave the house because we are going to hit the mosque.”
Mr al-Tawil, the frontage of whose house abutting the mosque was also demolished in the strike, said that he and his brother had then frantically woke up the entire family group of 35 including 19 children out of their beds and got them out of the building. The other dead men were named as Tareq Jadallah and Moadh Zayed while the one still buried under the rubble was said to be Zuhdi Abu Alrus, 24, who neighbours said had recently married and had a one month old child.
As neighbours gathered nearby to pay their condolences to the Badran family, struck by their second tragedy during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, the dead man’s brother Kemal Badran, 45, who works for the information office of the UN refugee agency UNRWA, said that his brother had had 20 years’ service as a policeman in Gaza, and had been injured early in the second intifada which started in 2000. “He was a religious man,” he added, saying that he frequently went early to the mosque before dawn prayers to wash and read the Koran. “Maybe [the Israelis] did not know that there would be anyone at the mosque at this time,” he said.
Mr Badran said that his brother had “of course” been extremely worried about the injuries suffered by his son Mohammed, whose mother Tagorid, 40, has been constantly at his bedside but left today to attend her husband’s funeral. Mr Badran added: “Her mood is not good. But now she must travel back to Gaza City because Mohammed has been calling for her.”
Israel regularly explains the abnormally large number of mosques hit during the current conflict by saying that it has uncovered a “vast number” of tunnel shafts, weapons caches, and sometimes rocket launching sites in their precincts. But the Imam Mr Mousa denied that the mosque had been so used by the militants and the neighbour, Mr al-Tawil, said that its basement was used as a preschool kindergarden.