Israeli Airstrikes Target Gaza Apartment Building

Aug 25, 2014
Originally published on August 25, 2014 1:46 pm
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Several times in recent weeks, Israel's war with Hamas has seemed to be ending. Each time a cease-fire has dissolved and the shooting has continued. One of our colleagues in Tel Aviv writes today, who needs an alarm clock when you've got rocket sirens? As Hamas fires rockets into Israel, Israeli warplanes have been bombing Gaza. And we're going to look at one incident in Gaza over the weekend. No one was killed, but this incident changed lives. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Gaza.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Dust and smoke rise slowly from a huge pile of rubber. Palestinian youths clamber around it rummaging for stuff to salvage. This giant heap is what's left of a place called Zafer Four. Zafer Four was a 13-story apartment block. It towered over one of Gaza city's nicer neighborhoods - overlooking the Mediterranean. Ahmed al-Sakka lived in number 37 on the 10th floor until just before sundown on Saturday. That's when someone in Zafer Four received a phone call from the Israeli military saying everyone must get out of the building fast, as it was going to be bombed.

AHMED AL-SAKKA: Why? Nobody knows why.

REEVES: Sakka didn't waste any time.

AL-SAKKA: I can't do nothing. You don't know what time they will give you. An hour or a minute? You don't know. You just need to run as fast as you can.

REEVES: Sakka took the elevator with his disabled mom. He says his pregnant wife took their two small kids down the stairs. Sakka, a business management student, says he's lost everything.

AL-SAKKA: My home, my laptop, my - this is like a nightmare. I'm still - I think I will wake up soon.

REEVES: The man who built Zafer Four, Mohammed Owda Abu Mathkour, lives across the road in a palatial mansion. Mathkour says, over about 45 minutes the Israeli military made at least three phone calls to several Zafer Four residents telling them to tell everyone to get out. When he found out what was going on Mathkour opened up his basement. And the residents of Zafer Four - some 400 people in all - poured inside to seek shelter. There was a warning shot and then this...


REEVES: Mathkour says everyone in the basement thought the Israeli airstrike would just target a couple of apartments, not bring down the entire block. The Israeli military targeted Zafer Four because it believed Hamas was operating inside the building. Mathkour says, almost all the Zafer Four residents are from the Palestinian Authority not Hamas. But, he says, a while back Hamas did acquire two apartments on the roof. He says, its people left weeks ago. He also points out in Gaza you can't just ask Hamas to go away.

MOHAMMED OWDA ABU MATHKOUR: (Through translator) I can't tell Hamas to leave. They are the people in charge here. I am a civilian. What can I do?

REEVES: Mathkour says he's done a great deal of business in Israel over the years. He supports the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.

MATHKOUR: (Through translator) We need to implement the Oslo Accords.

REEVES: He says that means there should be two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side. Until this happens there'll be a war in Gaza every two years, he says. Mathkour blames today's chaos on those now in power - particularly Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas. Although fast losing hope, Mathkour says he is planning to rebuild Zafer Four.

On the street outside, former residents of Zafer Four load belongings that they've salvaged from the rubble into the back of a truck. These people are off to live with relatives or to seek shelter in already crowded U.N. schools. Ahmed al Sakka, of number 37, has moved in with his uncle for now.

AL-SAKKA: And if they think that we will give up when they destroy our home, they are wrong. They are mistaken. They have no mind in their heads.

REEVES: More than 10,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or partially destroyed during this war according to a survey by a Palestinian human rights group. Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless. Now there are several hundred more. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.