Gaza breakfast turns to horror
Saturday is my day off from being Reuters correspondent in Gaza and I usually sleep until noon. This Saturday things didn’t go to plan.
My 7-year-old son Abdel-Rahman and his sister Dalia, who is 12, came home early from school, as they have been doing their mid-term exams, to wake me up and ask me to take them for breakfast at a seafront restaurant not far from Gaza’s port.
We got in the car, and for some reason I didn’t take the usual coast road. The decision probably saved our lives.
We had barely taken our table overlooking the sea when we heard one explosion, then another, then a third.
Abdel-Rahman began to cry and Dalia covered her ears with her hands.
I rushed to the front to have a look and saw smoke pouring from the area of the port, and a series of explosions. I figured it was air strikes. Then I heard the roar of Israeli jets.
I went to the restaurant’s reception and called the office, but I had to keep running back to my children and wife, were, to calm them down.
“Dad, don’t leave us,” cried Abdel-Rahman. Dalia wept. “Dad, I am afraid. Why? Why did that happen? Do they want to kill us?”
I had no answer as the explosions continued to rock the place that is our home.
I was getting reports by radio about locations that had been hit, including the main police headquarters and another security compound near our house.
What later emerged was that more than 225 people had been killed in dozens of air strikes against the Hamas-ruled strip. Israel said the attacks were in response to daily rocket fire by Gaza militants, which intensified after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire. On Saturday, one Israeli man was killed by a rocket after the Israeli strikes began.
My wife tried to call her friends in the house, but couldn’t get a signal. Then one of her friends got through to her and told her that there was shattered glass everywhere and the sky overhead was thick with smoke.
So we had to stay put in the restaurant and I had to struggle between coping with the tears of my children and the need to get to my office in Gaza.
Colleagues warned me against driving as my car could be hit if I unwittingly drove near any of the security compounds that the Israelis were attacking.
Then there was a lull in the bombings, and I put my family in the car. I took back roads, and drove as fast as I dared with hundreds of people milling around the streets.
“Dad, be careful,” Dalia said.
We arrived home to see that the adjacent Hamas security compound had indeed been bombed, and there were crowds in the street.
“I saw body parts and some people had their heads cut off,” one man said. “It was a real massacre, Israel has started a war,” said another.
In the compound, ambulance workers were still carrying out the injured as bodies, uniformed and in plain clothes, lay on the ground. Women wept and children huddled in the arms of their mothers and fathers.