Majdi Fathi / Sipa USA / AP Images

As darkness descends, so does dread for families close to Israeli targets

Amid rising civilian death toll, parents in Gaza find it hard to comfort young as nightly airstrikes continue

GAZA CITY — For Ala al-Jarwsha, his wife, and their two children, the most difficult moment of the day comes when night falls. Huddled together in the darkness, the parents struggle to comfort their children, who constantly ask about the loud explosions heard outside.

The family moves from one corner of their apartment to the next, as this is where they feel most safe. Other families living nearby sleep under their beds to try to protect themselves.

"It is a heated night, where we don't know who will be in the news. It could be all of us," the 31-year-old father told Al Jazeera, as his eldest child, three-year-old Mohammed, grabbed at his leg and didn't let go.

It is one hour after midnight, and no one is asleep in the family's home — not even Jarwsha's two children, Mohammed and Ahmed, aged one-and-a-half. This has been the case for the past five days, since Israel's military offensive on Gaza began.

"Dad, we are going to die," one of the children said.

The Jarwsha's home is just a few hundred meters from the house of a Hamas leader in Gaza, making the family more fearful than most that it may be hit by an Israeli bomb.

In the early morning hours on Friday, the house shook three separate times as a result of nearby explosions. "We only have the faith in [God] to protect us," Jarwsha said.

The Jarwshas' fears are widespread among many in Gaza. At least 124 Palestinians have been killed and 750 injured as the violence entered a fifth day on Saturday. According to the United Nations, Israel has fired more than 1,100 missiles and 100 tank shells, and carried out about 330 naval shellings.

The U.N. also reported that the destruction of residential buildings is the main cause of civilian casualties in the current violence engulfing Gaza: An estimated 342 housing units were destroyed as of midday on Thursday, forcing 2,000 Palestinians to seek refuge with relatives.

The Israeli government denies allegations that it is targeting civilians in Gaza, and insists that it is only going after members of Hamas. The Israeli military also inferred that civilian homes in Gaza serve "military purposes," and wrote on social media that its soldiers "target them for a reason."

"Israel targets Hamas terrorists and not innocent civilians," Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, said on Tuesday. "Hamas … bears full responsibility for any harm that comes to Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike."

But the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of all deaths so far in Gaza have been civilian casualties. Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, expressed concern on Friday over the mounting civilian death toll.

"We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes," Pillay said in a statement.

"Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

With electricity cuts usually lasting between 12-16 hours each day, families don't have access to much information about where the air strikes are taking place. The power outages also impact peoples' ability to share Ramadan meals, with many forced to eat whatever they can find, often in the dark.

"It is only [in the] daylight that we can live. I never liked nights during Israeli wars, whether we are being bombed by F16s or [Palestinian] rockets are fired from nearby, we are afraid, as the noise is too loud," Jarwsha said.

This has left families in Gaza spending each night fearing where and when the next air strike will hit. "Israeli shrapnel never discriminates," said Jarwsha, as his wife and children cried.

"For this reason, I never like the night. It [reminds] me of how vulnerable we are in this unprotected home."

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