Israeli bombs pound upscale Gaza district to rubble

·3-min read

Gaza City's Rimal district was long a place of relative calm and prosperity in the crowded enclave -- until Israeli bombing pounded much of it to rubble.

Locals say some 200 strikes have hit the area in nine days of conflict, replacing the downtown neighbourhood's cafes, restaurants, shops and homes with collapsed buildings, charred debris and cratered roads.

When Israel bombs nearby, "the whole house shakes like in an earthquake," said Rimal resident Abu Ahmad Al-Hassanat, 50.

Hassanat said he had moved to the area from southern Gaza, which he deemed too dangerous after his previous family home there was destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

"I thought I was safe this time," he said. "But unfortunately, my house was destroyed. This is the third time. I don't know where else to go to find safety."

The waterfront Rashid Street, with its hotels and street vendors selling falafel and ice cream, has also been hit by the Israeli air force, hitting many businesses.

Where only weeks ago people jogged to escape the pressures of the pandemic lockdown in the blockaded territory, families are now running for their lives, out of buildings targeted for destruction in air strikes.

The latest spasm of violence started when the armed Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza, fired a volley of rockets at Israel on May 10 in response to an Israeli police crackdown on Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Israel, vowing to punish Hamas and degrade its weapons arsenal for years to come, replied by hammering Gaza with strikes that have claimed 219 lives, including 63 children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign ambassadors on Wednesday that militants were using tunnel infrastructure underneath the Rimal neighbourhood.

- 'No one is safe' -

Another resident, 50-year-old Dunia Al-Amal Ismail, said that until the latest military escalation, "we thought the 2014 war was the worst, the deadliest".

That confrontation between Israel and Hamas lasted 51 days, ravaged the Gaza Strip and left at least 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, most of them civilians.

On the Israeli side, 74 people died, mostly soldiers.

The Israeli army that time mainly targeted areas of Gaza near its own territory.

But this time, "the attacks are on the heart of the city," said Ismail, who heads the Creative Women association.

"Nobody is safe."

- 'The beauty is gone' -

Ismail said Israel had crossed "all the red lines" by launching deadly strikes on Rimal's busy Wehda thoroughfare.

"Rimal used to be the safest and calmest neighbourhood in Gaza city, but now everything is destroyed," said Ismail.

"It's the terrifying images of the neighbourhood that will remain seared in my memory," she said.

"All its beauty is gone."

Israel's military regularly telephones people to give them advance warning that a building will be targeted, in what it says is an effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Moein Abbas, 47, a frozen food shop owner living in the Tel Al-Hawa neighbourhood, recalled how he was sitting with his neighbours when an Israeli army officer called.

"He told me, 'We are going to bomb your neighbour's house,' so I rushed over to tell them," he said.

Then "I ran from house to house to tell everyone to evacuate, as the Israeli officer stayed on the other end of the line."

And sure enough, an Israeli missile finally hit and destroyed the neighbours' house, he said.

Abbas has lived through three Gaza wars, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

The current bombardment, he said, has been the "most difficult".

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