Middle East

By Laying Waste To Houses, Israeli Strikes May Lay Seeds For New Rage

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Israeli air strikes on houses in the Gaza Strip have killed families and flattened the homes of neighbors, even as they target Hamas militants. One Palestinian human rights advocate says that, with these attacks, Israel is destroying a safe future for itself.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. More than 100 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed by Israeli airstrikes since Tuesday. And hundreds of rockets have rained down on parts of Israel. No Israelis have been killed, but we'll hear in a few minutes about dramatic rocket impact in Israel today. One of the tactics Israel is using is to strike homes it says are used by militants. But civilians are often nearby. NPR's Emily Harris begins our coverage from the Gaza Strip.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The Al-Haj family home used to stand off a narrow alley in a crowded neighborhood in the city of Khan Younis. It was flattened yesterday morning by an Israeli attack. Eight members of the Al-Haj family were killed. Mohammad el-Halaby lives next door.

MOHAMMAD EL-HALABY: (Through translator) I was having coffee with my wife. Our daughters were in their room doing something with the laptop. Our son was in his room. Then the rocket fell, and I was so shocked I couldn't speak. I couldn't see anything.

HARRIS: We head inside to have a look. Through a hole blasted in the living room wall, you can see the rubble pile that used to be the Al-Haj residence. In the sitting room where Halaby had been drinking coffee, the window and frame dropped onto the couch. Door panels broke, and everything is covered in dust - fat armchairs, a stuffed dog, two small coffee cups on a white tray. His daughters' bedroom wall collapsed. But his family survived.


HARRIS: Halaby walks through the rubble covering his marble floors composed. But he says he doesn't know what's next.

EL-HALABY: (Through translator) My family is living with my uncle now. My brother, who lives downstairs, is with another uncle. There is nothing we can do. We have to wait and see. We have to rebuild.

HARRIS: He still owes the bank $13,000 for building this home the first time. As we talk, we hear the distant whoosh of an outgoing rocket aimed at Israel.


HARRIS: Israel says the more than 1,000 airstrikes it has carried out in Gaza over the past four days are in response to more than 500 rockets launched from Gaza to Israel. Israeli Ministry of Defense spokesman Jonathan Mosrey says sometimes homes in Gaza are hit if they're being used to store weapons, plan attacks, or shoot rockets.

JONATHAN MOSREY: I don't particularly like the terminology that we're destroying houses. But at the end of the day, that's what it is.

HARRIS: But if houses are used for military purposes, that's fair game, he says.

MOSREY: Once we have indication that a target has been used for military purposes, that target becomes a legitimate military target, in which case we reserve the right to attack when and if we deem necessary.

HARRIS: In fact, one neighbor of the destroyed home of the Al-Haj family said one son was a low-level Hamas fighter. But among the eight family members killed were a couple in their 50s and a 12-year-old girl. Issam Younis, the director general of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, says Israel cannot justify destroying homes.

ISSAM YOUNIS: If a member of a family belongs to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, does it just cause to bombard a house and to kill the inhabitants? It's collective punishment. It's intentional.

HARRIS: Younis says it will just continue the cycle of violence.

YOUNIS: What do you expect out of all of this - more enmity, more hatred? It's there.

HARRIS: Israel says it is simply defending itself, and it even warns civilians to leave areas where a strike is imminent. That might mean a phone call to leave the house immediately or a non-explosive rocket landing on the roof. But in the close quarters of Gaza's dense population, nearby civilians who don't get a warning still pay a price. Emily Harris. NPR News, Gaza.

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