Israeli forces leveled six buildings overnight Monday in the most serious escalation of hostilities since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. By Tuesday afternoon, Israel and Palestinian factions had signed to an Egyptian brokered ceasefire, yet worry remains across the Strip.
Hours before the agreement was reached, Suhair Habboush, 39, was panic-stricken, fleeing her apartment in the middle of the night after a relative received a warning call from the Israeli military at 11:30 p.m.
“I fell asleep early Monday night and about 20 minutes into my sleep everything turned into massive chaos mixed with my brother-in-law loudly screaming,” Suhair said who shares a flat with her six children, “I rushed to my children’s bedrooms to check if they were alive.”
“My brother-in-law received a warning call from an Israeli officer telling him to evacuate the six –story building within 10 minutes,” she said, “The scene was similar to the 2014 war. We are scared that those black and bloody days might repeat themselves again. Nobody wants to lose their beloved.”
The target was the al-Amal Hotel, a site that rents Hamas offices for Gaza’s Ministry of Interior according to witnesses who said Israeli forces first fired three warning strikes, then five minutes later three direct hits from F-16 planes.
Tuesday morning Suhair went back to her home to assess the damage: thousands of tiny pieces of debris were strewn across the floor, the windows were knocked out from the blasts and their wooden door were popped out the of the frames.
Suhair’s eldest daughter, Reem, went along to assist in the clean up.
“I no longer care about the air strikes. If I am still alive or fatally hit by shrapnel, then it’s all the same for a girl who has already experienced three wars,” Reem said, “It is like a ridiculous movie.”
Suhair’s son Abdullah, 7, toyed with an English notebook, convinced he needed to pack up for school. Classes were cancelled across Gaza on Tuesday.
A neighbor and distant relative, Mohammed Habboush, 25, owns a workshop under Suhair’s apartment that was destroyed in the blast. The front door was damaged, making it impossible to enter.
“People are still treating their wounds from the last three wars. Why should our kids and wives being seen screaming scary in the streets? That would be unacceptable if it happened to the Israeli women,” he said.
While no casualties were reported from the blasts to buildings in Gaza’s urban centers, six Palestinians in Gaza were killed from Israeli air strikes before the ceasefire went into effect on Tuesday.
Gaza’s ministry of health identified the six as Khaled Riyadh al-Sultan, 26 Moussa Iyad Abd al-Aal, 22 Musaab Hoss, 20 Mohammed Zakariya al-Tatari, 27 Hamad Mohammed al-Nahal, 23 and Mohammed Zuhdi Odeh, 22. Another 25 were injured since Monday afternoon.
A Palestinian man originally from the West Bank city of Hallhoul near Hebron, Mahmoud Abu Asabeh, 48, was killed after a rocket from Gaza hit his home in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, the Times of Israel reported in an interview with his relatives.
Hundreds of residents flee after warning calls
Omar Matar and his brother Ala’a rushed Tuesday morning to their father’s money exchange shop on al-Wehda St near the eight-story al-Yazji building in Gaza City that was destroyed Monday from F-16 strikes.
According to the brothers who live in the al-Yazji building, they and more than 200 families were ordered to evacuate their apartments by the Israeli military minutes before the air raid.
“This building is just constructed three years ago. The residents are still putting the finishing touches on their new apartments or paying them off in installments,” Omar said.
“People are in need of a peaceful life,” Omar said, “but it seems to be impossible to see that happening for more than a three to four year stretch.”
Yousef Shrair, 25, described the scene as ” a small copy of the 2014 war.”
“The wide scattered rubble from bombarded buildings dumped across the road lanes, a thick grey dust covered the nearby rescue crews, and burning smoke was released from the destructed building have all take my mind back to that war,” Yousef said, “I pray every hour that God will blind their [the Israelis’] eyes as to avoid more hits.”
Gaza TV station leveled
In the exchange of fire over the last 24 hours Israeli forces hit a total of 160 sites in Gaza, and militants in Gaza fired 460 rockets into Israel, according to the Israeli military as reported by the Jerusalem Post.
The first building Israeli forces razed to the ground late Monday was the Hamas-run al-Aqsa TV station. Eyewitnesses told Mondoweiss that ten missiles struck the building, turning the headquarters into rubble, spattering hundreds of large piles of wreckage into the air.
The air campaign began shortly after 9 p.m. local time when Israeli drones fired three smaller warning missiles, followed by at least one F-16 dropping around ten missiles on the TV headquarters. The building has been hit three times in previous military operations.
All of “my windows and doors were uprooted,” said Mohammed al-Shurafa who lives nearby, “the kitchen tools were scattered everywhere.”
Successive explosions were heard throughout the night in Gaza, along with the blare of ambulance sirens.
Israeli forces also struck a two-story residential building owned by the Dahair family in Gaza’s southern Rafah City, and another belonging to al-Braim family in Khan Younis. Both were destroyed.
Three additional single family houses in Gaza were given orders over the phone from the Israeli army to evacuate immediately, according to security sources in Gaza, adding that no injuries were reported in the airstrikes on the TV station or the houses.
This latest spike in violence followed a botched Israeli raid inside of Gaza on Sunday where a covert team killed a commander of Hamas’ military wing, Nour Barakeh and six more Palestinians in the al-Qassam Brigades. Palestinian militants killed a 41 year old Lieutenant Colonel during the operation whose name has not been disclosed by the Israeli government.
Witnesses told Mondoweiss the undercover Israeli operatives were exposed at a Hamas military checkpoint, later exiting the Gaza Strip by way of helicopter. Within hours, militants had launched rockets in response.