Gaza City – Amer Ashour’s pregnant wife started having labour pains just as Israel began to bombard the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday night.
They rushed to a nearby maternity hospital where the couple was blessed with a baby boy, their second child. But what they did not expect was to return home and find no trace of it except for a pile of rubble and stones.
Israel’s forces bombed the 11-storey building the couple lived in, in the Al-Nasr neighbourhood in the west of Gaza City, after the Palestinian armed group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack inside Israel earlier on Saturday.
“What I feared most when the escalation began was that my wife was about to give birth. I was worried how we would get to the hospital in light of the continuous bombing,” Ashour told Al Jazeera. “But I did not at all expect my house will be bombed and destroyed.”
Israel on Sunday declared a “state of war” and approved “significant military steps” after Hamas’s surprise attack. The fierce battles that followed have killed more than 1,000 people – including at least 400 in Gaza – and wounded thousands on both sides.
Approximately 80 families inhabited the building in Gaza City Ashour lived in.
“Today, all of us, our children and women, are homeless,” he said as he pulled his belongings from the rubble. “Where will we go in these difficult times?”
Shadi Al-Hassi and his elder brother fled their home in the east of the Gaza Strip after it was damaged following an air strike on a building behind their house. They went to their parents’ apartment in Al-Watan Tower in downtown Gaza City.
“At four o’clock in the morning, I was surprised by calls to us to evacuate the tower, which had been threatened with Israeli bombing,” Al-Hassi told Al Jazeera.
Civil defence vehicles and ambulances rushed to evacuate the building’s residents minutes before it was bombed, causing panic among the families that lived there.
“Until this moment, I am still in shock that the tower was targeted. A residential and civilian tower par excellence, with clinics, companies and a beauty centre? Where is the military activity that Israel claims?” Al-Hassi told Al Jazeera.
“Now all of us, my brother and my family, were rendered homeless within hours and we don’t know what’s coming next.”
Youssef Al-Bawab, who lived in a building opposite the Al-Watan Tower, told Al Jazeera they received a warning from Israeli forces at 5pm local time (14:00 GMT) to evacuate their house.
“We felt very frightened. The tower is only a few metres away from us and it is a civilian tower. We did not notice any resistance activities in it as Israel claimed.”
The building in which Al-Bawab lived with 150 other people was badly damaged and became uninhabitable. Several other houses and buildings around the Al-Watan Tower were also severely damaged after the bombing.
“Israel says it is targeting resistance fighters, military sites and buildings belonging to Hamas, but the truth is otherwise. I believe Israel is deliberately targeting civilians and displacing them to put more pressure on Hamas,” Al-Bawab said. “But what is our fault? Where do we go?”
Mohammed Salah, from Beit Lahia neighbourhood in the north of Gaza, said he left his home and took shelter in a United Nations-run school with other families from the area.
“Last night, Israeli aeroplanes randomly bombed our area. The situation was very dangerous, so I left my home with other families,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Israeli bombs don’t differentiate between civilians and resistance fighters. In every war, we leave our homes because of the indiscriminate bombing.”
“We have been living in this for years, with no one defending or standing for us. We have the right to resist our occupier,” Salah said.
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