Rex Features/AP

In Gaza there is scant time to flee the bombs, and ‘no place is safe’

The Khader family had less than a minute to evacuate after neighbor’s house was targeted; both homes were destroyed

RAFAH — Khader Khader had less than one minute to evacuate his home.

At 7 a.m. on Friday, the 55-year-old was sleeping under the staircase with his five children when he heard his neighbor scream, "Dr. Khader, evacuate! They are going to bomb my house!"

At that moment, Khader's 7-year-old son, Mohammed, tucked his tiny fingers into his father’s trousers and froze, unable to move. Everyone quickly got out of bed and ran out of their yellow villa — which Khader spent years saving money to build and moved into only two years ago — just as the first Israeli missile, a warning shot, screeched by.

"We ran anywhere we could, away from the house so as not to get hurt or killed," Khader recalled, his voice shaking.

They crammed into their car and reached the top of the street before the second missile, fired from an Israeli F-16, hit the neighborhood. Their home was not the target, but his neighbor's house was. "My children are traumatized from the bombing. What did they do to deserve this?" said Khader, a respected university professor of linguistics.

His children, ages 7 to 16, have yet to return to see the damage. "The trauma is so immense that they fear coming back to their home, where we escaped by a miracle," he told Al Jazeera.

At the same time the Khader family’s home was bombed, another house in Rafah, in southern Gaza, was hit by Israeli missiles. The Ghannam family received no warning, and five people were killed in their sleep, and 16 others were injured.

At least 172 Palestinians have been killed and almost 1,000 others injured as Israel's military operation continued into a sixth day on Sunday. Gaza's Health Ministry said Sunday that at least 29 were children under the age of 16.

At least 70 Palestinian homes have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations, while another 2,500 housing units have sustained minor damage.

Over the weekend, shelling in Gaza continued unabated, resulting in the deadliest single attack on a Gazan home, killing 18. It was followed Sunday by the first ground incursion in the Israeli offensive, with commandos clashing with Hamas fighters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, "Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israel's citizens."

On Twitter the Israeli army has defended its operation, accusing Hamas of hiding rockets and other weapons in "houses, mosques, hospitals [and] schools" and of operating "deep within residential areas." The military has argued that it has made efforts to minimize civilian casualties but said that houses can be considered lawful military targets.

But the United Nations has said that even if a home is being used for military purposes, "any attack must be proportionate, offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances at the time, and precautions must be taken."

Jaber Wishah, deputy director of the Palestinian Human Rights Center in Gaza City, said that Israel has engaged in the "punitive destruction" of Palestinian homes in Gaza. "Those houses — even if they belong to a Hamas [member] or Islamic Jihad [member] — they should be considered civilian objects. They did not participate in the military operations," he said.

Wishah said there are three scenarios that usually occur before Israel bombs a home in Gaza. The army may carry out an airstrike without any warning, it may fire a warning shot (known as roof-knocking, in which a dud missile lands on the roof of a house to alert the inhabitants that a live missile is on its way), or it may call Palestinian families to tell them to evacuate before bombing their homes.

"Every single home in Gaza is within the target circle," he said. "No place is safe in Gaza now. Each home could be a target, either directly or indirectly affected."

In Rafah early Friday morning, Khader returned to his home to survey the damage. His neighbors were also out to examine the rubble. "It’s like after a tsunami," said a reporter on the scene.

Only the frame of the house was still standing. The family's possessions were destroyed, furniture was broken, shrapnel littered the floor of every room, and not a single door or window was intact. His collection of books, photographs and letters was also gone.

Khader didn't manage to save anything from his home, not even identification papers. As he inspected the destruction, still in a state of shock, another Israeli airstrike hit nearby. Children ran screaming from the next house, where they were collecting clothes and toys.

"Out of all this, there is nothing that I can use," Khader said, as he stumbled around his home. "The loss is too great."

Jillian Kestler-D'Amours contributed reporting.

Photos: Gazans mourn 18 members of family killed in single airstrike

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