GAZA CITY -- It was late Saturday morning when Aisha, 2, and Fatima, 4, left their bedroom and walked downstairs to their grandmother's apartment. Minutes after they left, the family says, an Israeli tank shell crashed through the girls’ bedroom wall, landing right next to a stroller. They say they didn't receive any warning.
But the girls' family was lucky. Unlike with many strikes in Gaza, the shell did not explode and no one was injured.
"Maybe it was a mistake," said Ismael, a member of the extended family, who was visibly confused as to why their building was targeted. "They’re just randomly bombing!" said one elderly female resident as neighborhood kids pointed to a gaping hole in the fourth floor.
Since Israel began its offensive against Gaza more than two weeks ago, with the stated aim of destroying Hamas' tunnels and halting the militant group's rocket fire, it has bombarded the area with land, air and sea strikes. At least 693 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. As the death toll continues to rise, many Palestinians here insist Israel isn't doing enough to avoid killing noncombatants. They say many civilians often have no idea their building is about to be targeted, or that the warning comes too late.
"They bomb many people without warning,” Hilmi Abu Toha, a young father, said as he stood in front of his destroyed three-story building. "This is a civilian building. How would we shoot rockets from this building?"
Israel, which has been hit by more than a thousand rockets and has lost more than 30 people in the conflict, says that it adequately warns civilians before striking, either with phone calls, text messages, pamphlets, or a "knock on the roof" by a non-explosive missile to indicate a strike is imminent. It recently released videos that it says show F16 fighter jets calling off airstrikes at the last minute after pilots saw civilians.
Israel also slams Hamas for firing rockets and storing weapons in crowded civilian areas. It maintains that the militant group uses civilians as human shields, forcing them to stay in areas under evacuation and stand on roofs to deter airstrikes. Though Palestinians in Gaza interviewed by The WorldPost said Hamas did not stop them from evacuating areas, many said the group did ask families to ignore Israel's warnings.
"The IDF has no intention to harm civilians," Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said in an email. "Any instance in which non-involved Gaza residents are harmed is a tragic byproduct of Hamas attempts to maximize local casualties."
"When arms depots or military targets are deployed within residential areas, the IDF calls residents with a warning minutes before the strike, in order to provide residents time to evacuate," he continued. "If residents fail to comply, a small non-explosive munition is used to convey the seriousness of the warning, prior to the strike. Finally, only after visual confirmation that civilians have exited the premises does the IDF approve the strike."
But in dozens of interviews, survivors from Israeli strikes mocked and criticized Israel’s insistence that it actively tries to avoid killing civilians. Instead, they said, civilians are being targeted as a form of collective punishment. Strikes have recently hit hospitals, a center for the disabled, and even a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees. In many cases -- like the recent attack that killed 25 members of four households in southern Gaza -- there are few survivors or none at all.
Amal, an elderly Palestinian woman, was breaking the Ramadan fast outside her home in northern Gaza on the first day of Israel's offensive when she and her family were hit by an airstrike. They received no warning, she said recently while looking after her injured 5-year-old grandson, Kenan, at al-Shifa Hospital in central Gaza City.
Kenan's father and 21-year-old sister died in the attack. His 5-year-old cousin, Nour, who was recovering in a bed next to him at the hospital, lost both of his parents.
"Either they thought it was suspicious that there were so many people, or they just wanted to kill as many people as possible," Amal said, looking at the two boys, their stitches fresh and their fingernails still caked with dried blood.
Delal al-Attar, a young mother from al-Atatra in northern Gaza, said that people who live several blocks away from her received leaflets and phone calls about shellings, but that she never received either. Late last week, she sought shelter at a school in Gaza City run by UNRWA. The 69 UNRWA shelters are now full, housing more than 100,000 internally displaced Palestinians, according to UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.
"I just didn’t think they would attack us," al-Attar said, holding an infant dressed in a white polka-dot dress.
Palestinians also said they haven't received warnings when the Israeli military hits vehicles, in what are often targeted assassinations.
Muhammad Abu Taweela, 16, said he was playing with friends outside his house earlier this month in Shijaiyah -- a district in eastern Gaza City that was hammered by airstrikes on Sunday -- when a nearby vehicle was hit with a drone without warning. Shrapnel from the strike was lodged in his face, and many of his friends were also injured in the attack.
"I felt air blowing on my face," he said, remembering the moment of the strike. "I felt my cheek getting bigger. I was trying to understand what was going on." His father, sitting quietly next to him, said he can't believe his son survived. "I expected it to be much worse. I expected him to be killed."
Civilians living in homes that have been targeted say Israel often gives warnings to their neighbors, nearby relatives or friends. If those people are sleeping, can’t reach the residents by phone, or just can’t run fast enough, families often have no idea they need to evacuate.
Toha, the young father whose building was destroyed, said he doesn't understand why the Israeli army called his neighbors instead of him.
"I have a phone. We all have phones," he said, looking around at some of the other tenants. "But the Israelis called one house over. They came and knocked hard on our door."
Dr. Nasser al-Tattar, head of al-Shifa Hospital, said he received a warning earlier this month about an imminent strike from his nephew, Mohammed, who lives in a house nearby.
"They said, ‘We are going to bomb Dr. Nasser’s house, tell the neighbors to evacuate,'" Mohammed recalled, standing next to his uncle’s destroyed home, the first floor cardio clinic now just rubble. "'You have 10 minutes,' they said. So I ran and told everyone."
Thanks to Mohammed’s ability to get to the house quickly, no one was injured or killed.
For the many Palestinian civilians in Gaza who have survived Israeli strikes and are now homeless, there's nothing "surgical" -- a term Israel uses to describe its strikes -- about the attacks that have killed their family members, friends and neighbors.
“There is no reason,” said 17-year-old Mustafa Amir, who fled here last week from Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, in reference to the strikes.
The Israeli military called his sister, who was sitting next to him at the time, and told her they had a few minutes to leave their house before it was hit, he said. He left with the clothes on his back, and everything else in his home was destroyed.
“Nobody in my family is Hamas,” he said, fiddling with his silver watch, one of the only belongings he has left. “Both my neighbors were targeted on either side of my house in different attacks. And they received no warning.”
Moushira Jammal contributed reporting from Gaza City.
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.
"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.
08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT
Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza
Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.
The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT
Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue
Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.
"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."
Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.
08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT
Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks
Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT
Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT
Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks
A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.
The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.
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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT
Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire
Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT
IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT
Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border
ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.
08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect
Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.