Israel-Gaza conflict: Civilian casualties in Gaza tell stories of death and heartbreak

The latest Israeli offensive saw troops crossing the border, supported by tanks, Apache helicopter-gunships and warplanes

Khan Younis

Mohammed Abu Tair was carrying his little daughter out of a burning house when the second missile struck, throwing four-month-old Hala out of his arms. He tried to cling on to her desperately, but felt himself falling and then lost consciousness.

The victims of that attack, from the same extended family, were at the Nasser Hospital at Khan Younis today. Mr Tair had severe injuries to his face, eyes and chest; his father-in-law, the owner of the house, Ismail Abu Zarif Zarifa was killed in the blast. Hala, a tiny figure, was in a specialist unit, with third-degree burns across her body, her 23-year-old mother, Hana, weeping over her. Also there was Mohammed’s brother Diya, 24, in another ward, with shrapnel wounds from a separate strike a few hours later.

They were among the latest casualties of the bloody conflict in Gaza when the Israeli military launched a fierce offensive on Khan Younis with troops coming across the border, supported by tanks, Apache helicopter-gunships and warplanes.

One specific target was the home of Mohammed Deif, the head of the Qassem Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, and one of those who had been planning the urban guerilla war being carried out against the Israeli forces as well as the campaign of rocket launches from Gaza across the frontier. The commander, who is partially paralysed and wheelchair-bound, had survived two other attempts at targeted killings. This time, too, he managed to escape. Two people, believed to be his relations, were killed. 

The Khan Younis assault mirrored one carried out on another district, Shujayia, in which more than 80 Palestinians and six Israeli soldiers were killed. A seventh, Sergeant Oron Shaul is missing; Hamas claims it has captured him.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters were dug in at Khan Younis, using rocket propelled grenade launchers, light mortars and Kalashnikovs. The bodies of around 10 of them, wearing black body armour, have been brought out of areas of heaviest combat, Khozaa, Abasan and Algagra.

Flashes from explosions and plumes of smokes rose out of the villages. Ambulances could not reach civilians, many of them wounded, trapped inside their homes. Relations and neighbours  carried out some of them to the points where paramedics had been able to reach. Some residents were too frightened to leave their homes or even use their mobile phones because they were worried about the reactions of Israeli soldiers working their way across roofs trying to flush out militants.

Two men who ran across a field to an ambulance claimed that there had been Israeli casualties. “The resistance are ambushing them, they are well prepared. The Israelis are using helicopters, firing into buildings to try to kill the resistance. But these buildings are empty,” said one of them, who would only give his first name, Khalid, and insisted he had nothing to do with Hamas. “Look, I am not carrying a gun” , he said spreading his hands.

Mr Tair had gone with his family from Abasan to Khozza for Iftar, the breaking of the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Tuesday evening. “The bombing started and it was too dangerous to travel. So we spent the night there, we thought it was a safe place. In the morning we heard a plane overhead, an F-16, and it hit the house with a rocket. I grabbed my daughter and started running, she is our only child. Then there was very loud explosion, I fell and passed out. I have been told what has been done to Hala; of course, I feel terrible, I feel very angry. My wife is in shock, she can’t even speak.”

Mr Tair’s brother, Diya, was walking along Abasan when, he said, a helicopter opened fire scattering those below. Injured, he tried to crawl to safety along a wall, but was hit by a another round. “They could see he was already hurt, but they still fired at him, why?” their father, Ali Abu Tair, demanded. “Are we just animals to be slaughtered?”

Mohammad Awad Samar was killed by missiles fired from a field at the edges of Khan Younis. Around the same time, Khalid al-Zain, 18, ran back towards a mosque on hearing an explosion to check on his father whom he had left there praying. There was another blast which sent him flying back and left him with leg injuries.

A stream of families was trying to get away from the clashes. One group of nine, leaving al-Quraia, had three women waving white cloths tied to broom handles. “We are hoping that the Israelis see the flags and also see that it is women carrying them” said 38-year-old Issan Abu Hajjaj.

Those who had reached Khan Younis centre had packed into a UN shelter, a school, around 50 to a classroom. They were mostly women and children. Alia al-Najjar, 29, was worried about her 38-year-old husband, Mohammed, and two brothers, Talat, 26, and Talal, 30, back at the family home in Khozza. “We did not really think the Israelis would carry out a big attack, so the men said that we should go and they would stay behind,” she said. “But we saw tanks and they fired some bombs with gas, everyone was choking, we had to leave with the children as quickly as possible. The men could not get out then.

“We have spoken to them on the phone, and they are all right. But they don’t want the phone to ring and they have to speak in whispers, they can hear soldiers on the roof.”

Like many civilians who have become victims, Mohammed Abu Tair wanted to know why. “None of our family have anything to do with politics, let alone fighting. If the Israelis have any proof that is not the case, let them show it. Why are we guilty? Why is my little daughter guilty?”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones