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'Mama, Baba, Boom!': Toddlers and families learn to live with Gaza bombardment

WorldMay 20, 2021 08:12PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza, May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa 2/2

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - The Mashharawi family have already fled their home to a relative's apartment in the Gaza Strip and are prepared for another dash at any time.

For more than a week, since a conflict erupted with Israel, they have retreated each evening to the windowless corridor, with vital documents and other items packed and ready to grab.

"Our life is full of fear. There is no safety at all," said Mohammad al-Mashharawi, a father of triplets aged five and a one-year-old infant.

Diplomacy towards a ceasefire between Israel's military and Palestinian militants in Gaza has yet to deliver an end to the unrelenting exchange of fire, running through the day and night.

Israeli air strikes and artillery fire as well as the militants' rocket attacks often intensify after the sun sets.

Over the border in Israel, sirens wail hours or even minutes apart in areas in range of the rocket salvoes, sending people dashing to shelters or "safe rooms". Where these are not available, some also use hallways and staircases

In densely populated Gaza, there are fewer place to run. Many of the 2 million people packed into this narrow strip of land are already refugees, whose families fled towns and cities now in Israel.

Mashharawi and his family left their own home after a heavy bombardment.

"I moved from my house to my uncle's and I keep all my personal belongings ready so if there is a threat to our lives or around us, we can immediately move to another house," said Mashharawi, 31, speaking in his uncle's third-floor flat in a seven-storey block in Gaza City.

They sleep on a mattress in the hall, which has no windows, to avoid the risk of flying glass from any blast. Small bags next to the door contain their birth certificates and other key documents, jewellery, phones, laptops and some clothes.


Gaza's Housing Ministry says 16,800 housing units have been damaged, with 1,000 of them destroyed and 1,800 uninhabitable.

Medics say 230 people have been killed, including 65 children, in Gaza during the conflict that began on May 10. The U.N. humanitarian agency says six hospitals and nine primary care health centres have been hit.

Israel puts its death toll at 12, including two children, in barrages that it says are among the most intense the country has ever faced. Residential blocks, synagogues and other buildings have been hit by the rockets.

The Israeli military says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and that it gives prior warning to evacuate residential blocks if they are targeted for what Israel says is military activity going on inside.

Hamas, an Islamist group which has ruled Gaza since 2007, says such accusations are a pretext for collective punishment. It says it is struggling to secure Palestinian rights against Israeli oppression. Israel, the United States and European Union say the group is a terrorist organisation.

Warnings can give Palestinians a couple of hours or so to leave before a strike. Once emptied, subsequent blasts have turned several multi-storey residential buildings into piles of rubble.

Rana Mashharawi says her one-year-old daughter had been learning words like "mama" and "baba", but has now added the word of an explosion - "boom".

At night, when blasts seemed the most frightening, she said their new bedroom in the hall felt like the safest place. "If something happens, God forbid, we take our belongings and leave," she said.

'Mama, Baba, Boom!': Toddlers and families learn to live with Gaza bombardment

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