Fares Akram: I rushed home in the ceasefire. Our baby's due tomorrow

Gaza Diary

Tuesday 13 January 2009 01:00

The temporary ceasefire was earlier yesterday, running from 10am until 1pm, so I used the time to rush back to the family house we've evacuated, to pick up blankets, toothbrushes and clothes. I found our area in the al-Karama district of Gaza City completely deserted except for a few people who had gone to inspect their homes. Some of the houses had been set on fire in the overnight clashes.

I managed to bring back things for the baby: washing products, shampoo, but because it was such a rush, I forgot a lot of things we needed.

I'm supposed to become a father for the first time tomorrow. Alaa, my wife, has a lot of pain and is very tired. We finally got blood pressure medication for her, from an UNWRA clinic. Inshallah, everything will be all right on Wednesday. The problem for Alaa, or for any woman about to give birth in Gaza, is that the Israelis don't announce their true intentions.

We had a call from Amman to say that Bassma, one of my aunts who was suffering from cancer and receiving treatment in a hospital in the Jordanian capital, just died. She was 49, a year older than my father. We'd been expecting her death but never imagined that dad, her younger brother, would die a week before her, wiped out by a missile fired from an Israeli warplane.

My father had been making plans to look after Bassma's youngest unmarried daughter, who is 17, in the event of her death. But that was before this Israeli military campaign. There is no question of bringing Bassma's body back to Gaza in these conditions. For Muslims, the sooner you bury the dead, the better so I think most probably she will have to be buried in Amman.

Al-Nasser, the area of Gaza City we have moved to for safety is overcrowded and people have started going out in the streets a bit more. That's because there are a lot of UN schools harbouring families in the neighbourhood but they can't stay shut in the schools all day.

Air strikes have continued but there isn't much left to attack. The IDF are bombing either sites that have been bombed already, or open spaces. The tanks pushed in from the south side overnight. They always advance in the night. The pattern seems to be clashes with militants, and then the tanks take up new positions. The bombs are still hitting mosques, however. The Israelis claim they could contain stores for weapons. Mosques here are very much associated with Hamas. If you are a Hamas member and you have a problem, you raise a complaint by going to the nearest mosque.

Now, Hamas are very silent. We don't even see Hamas police in the streets. It isn't that they've gone underground, but they are wearing civilian clothes and they don't dare to show their weapons, or drive their blue police cars which are all still parked in the same places they were in when this started.

Not that there is any law and order to enforce. The prisons have been emptied by the bombing and some have taken advantage of the chaos to carry out vengeance killings or to settle clan feuds.

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