Decimated Tower Remains As Monument To Gaza War

The 17-story shard of an apartment building, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, looms over a Gaza City neighborhood. The tower is a symbol of the ongoing, dangerous uncertainties of life late in the second month of the war between Israel and Hamas.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Hours before that cease-fire was announced, a tall office and apartment building in Gaza was hit in an Israeli airstrike. It was mostly destroyed, but not entirely. NPR's Philip Reeves reports that it's now a prominent emblem of the devastation there.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: They joyfully fired guns in the air in Gaza when they heard news of the cease-fire. Yet, everyone knows if this cease-fire holds, huge challenges lie ahead. What, for example, is to be done with the multitude of Palestinians displaced by this war? How will Gaza rebuild thousands of homes wrecked by Israeli missiles? This war has changed the skyline of the Gaza Strip. We're in downtown Gaza City. Some young men on the sidewalk are staring upwards. They're looking at a giant finger of tattered concrete that looms precariously above them. It's 17 stories high. This was part of a prestigious high-rise apartment building and a famous landmark says Ahmed Yaghi, who lives nearby.

AHMED YAGHI: People here considered it one of the biggest towers in Gaza. In the Gaza - in the whole Gaza Strip, not only in Gaza city.

REEVES: The tower had apartments, offices and restaurants. Yaghi says the place was a magnet for educated young Gazans.

YAGHI: We used to come here to watch soccer with our friends and like this, there were many cafes here.

REEVES: Israel's military believes it also contained a Hamas operational center. Last night, the Israelis made phone calls warning people the building and the surrounding area to evacuate. Then in the early hours today, after some warning shots, they attacked the tower with missiles. Three quarters of the tower came crashing down. The giant, lethal-looking concrete finger is what remains. Are you concerned that this could fall down? I mean, it's 17 stories high.

YAGHI: Yeah, yeah. It's could fall down at any moment.

REEVES: Are the people frightened and worried about that?

YAGHI: Of course people around here frightened for their homes and for their women and children. Any moment this column might collapse on them.

REEVES: This doesn't seem to worry Palestinians picking through the rubble. There are no signs telling people to stay away. There's no tape cordoning off the area. No one's wearing a hard hat. Hani Radwan is supervising a team of youngsters clearing out his son's grocery store. The shop's right by the tower. Radwan says traders around here will soon open up again despite the risk of being buried by rubble.

HANI RADWAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: When you're really in need, you do whatever it takes, says Radwan, even if you are really frightened and even if it's dangerous. People in Gaza, he says, have families to feed. This is also about something else. Being blockaded in Gaza creates a kind of fatalism. Not far away, a bulldozer is biting into a pile of debris. It's trying to clear up what's left of another high-rise destroyed early today - a 15 story place called the Bashir Tower. Again, the Israeli military concluded militants were operating inside. Again, they warned people to get out of the area before unleashing missiles and most people did. Saleem Abu Shabaan's home is just 100 yards from the targeted tower. He says he did get the evacuation warning, but ignored it.

SALEEM ABU SHABAAN: (Through translator) I didn't leave, I did not leave, I said whatever Allah wants will happen. I am not leaving.

REEVES: You stayed in your house?

SHABAAN: (Through translator) Me, my wife and my kids.

REEVES: Abu Shabaan says there was a massive explosion. His house filled with so much dust, that no one could see one another. Tonight, the citizens of Gaza are hoping no more Israeli missiles will change their skyline. Yet whether war or peace lies ahead, someone will have to figure out what to do about that giant concrete finger. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Gaza.

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