x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Gaza parents of baby killed in 'Israeli strike' ask why

This time last year a young Palestinian couple were joyfully anticipating the birth of their second child, a boy. Yesterday they buried him, the youngest victim of Israel's new onslaught on Gaza. Hugh Naylor reports from Gaza City

Ahlam Mashhrawi had helped other family members to flee the house but the Israeli missile struck before she could go back to bring out her baby son.
Ahlam Mashhrawi had helped other family members to flee the house but the Israeli missile struck before she could go back to bring out her baby son.

GAZA CITY // Jihad Mashhrawi was at work when they told him. One of the Israeli missiles raining down on Gaza City had exploded in his home.

Inside the wreckage lay the charred body of his 11-month-old son, Omar. The missile blast also killed his brother's wife, Heba, 20.

"We're only civilians. So why did Israel do this?" said Mr Mashhrawi, 27, fighting back tears at his little boy's funeral.

Family members wailed around him, and in his arms he cradled his other son, Ali, 4, who was injured in the air strike on Wednesday when rubble crashed on his head.

Mr Mashhrawi's wife Ahlam, 20, had helped other family members to flee the house. "We heard sounds of bombing," she said. "We were hiding in the hallway and then we decided we had to leave because we felt in danger."

But before she could go back to bring out her baby son, the missile struck.

"We want to live in peace," the grieving young mother said. "We want this violence to stop."

The Mashhrawi family were not alone yesterday in their sorrow and their fear. Gaza was awash with it. Many Gazans expect the escalating exchanges of Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian militants' rockets to erupt into full-blown war.

Businesses in the city's usually bustling thoroughfares were shuttered and residents feared setting foot outside their homes. Groups of children pattered about some streets, playing, but still wary of what loomed overhead.

The impact of airstrikes thundered throughout the day, reverberating reminders of Israel's often deadly hold on this territory.

Thousands gathered to bury Ahmed Al Jabari, the Hamas military commander targeted in Wednesday's first strike.

A procession carried his body, wrapped in the white-and-green Hamas flag, through Omar Mukhtar Street to Sheikh Radwan cemetery. Men in black jackets discharged automatic weapons into the air.

"I saw his body. We must avenge his death!" shouted Adnan Jaber, 14.

Supporters of the Islamist group were vowing revenge and chanting their religious slogans.

"There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet!" they shouted in unison, pointing their right index fingers into the air.

Gazans are torn by the question of how to respond to Israel's attacks.

Watching Al Jabari's burial from the roof of his home, Hasan Abu Daqan, 27 and unemployed, questioned the logic of militants firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. He had seen his fair share of shuhada, or martyrs, buried there over the years.

Against its military might, Israel would always prevail with arms, he said. Hamas was outgunned.

"We just want the death and the killing to stop," he said, watching hundreds of mourners below pay their respects to a man Israel accused of masterminding attacks that have killed scores of Israelis.

"It's not good that Hamas is fighting back, or that Israel hits us. There has to be another way, peace, an end."

But his uncle, Imad Abu Daqan, 47, a businessman, lashed out. "What are you saying?" he said to Hasan.

"This is our land - all of it! Palestine, to Lebanon, Jordan and here is ours."

Just before they spoke, two rockets had soared into the air from an area several kilometres north of the cemetery, probably aimed at the Israeli city of Sderot. Residents there regularly flee for cover to avoid the Palestinian-fired rockets.

"Allahu akhbar," the mourners chanted at the sight of the rocket launching.

The Abu Daqan family debate, like most such discussion here, was muzzled by the thud of the rockets.

For Gazans, the soundtrack of explosions only served to exacerbate their fears of a repeat of Israel's three-week war here in December 2008 that killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

"My grown daughters sleep in the same room as my wife and I," said Jamia Abu Fanun, 64, a gynaecologist. "They are too afraid."

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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