Sleepless Gazans keep children, essentials close as Israeli bombing goes on

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - As nearby explosions from Israeli air strikes continued to rock their Gaza home for the third night this week, Hani al-Hindi and his wife slept with their six children huddled together in the same room, where they felt it was safer.

Next to the front door, the family kept a leather bag with their essential documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and health reports, ready to grab should their building come under attack.

Preparing to leave is easy, the parents said - it is the uncertainty over where to go that they struggle with.

"Maybe to the nearby school or the hospital? I really don't know where I would go with my family if our building is bombed," said al-Hindi, a 41-year-old retired public servant from Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

"There are neither shelters nor safe places in Gaza."

As the children took their places on mattresses on the floor next to their mother, explosions continued to shake Khan Younis.

By monitoring social media posts, the parents learned that Israel had bombed a Khan Younis apartment housing a senior Islamic Jihad militant commander, killing him and two other members before dawn on Thursday.

"When the Israelis bomb, buildings shake. The children become afraid and they cry, they don't sleep at all," said al-Hindi. "We sleep next to them to try to calm them down."

Gaza health officials said at least 25 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed since Tuesday when Israel killed three other Islamic Jihad commanders it accused of planning attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, sparking new cross-border fighting.

The violence extended through Thursday with the commander of Islamic Jihad's rocket force killed and Palestinian militant rocket launches from Gaza continuing, amid Egyptian efforts to secure a truce.

Israel has kept crossings to the Gaza Strip, a tiny, impoverished coastal territory, closed since Tuesday, preventing the entry of fuel and food or the exit of patients needed care outside Gaza.

With Gaza residents on edge, businesses and schools remained closed. Streets were mostly deserted except for people queuing at groceries and bakeries. Transport was rare except for some taxis and ambulance vehicles.

Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, is suffering a worsening humanitarian crisis arising from repeated wars with Israel over the past two decades and a broad, 16-year-old Israeli blockade.

Al-Hindi and his wife Melina, 39, said some of their children remained glued to them and asked for company even to go to the bathroom. Melina said she skipped a monthly checkup for her youngest child to stay put with the family.

"Our life is on hold," she said. "We feel unsafe, even at home."

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi and Bassam Masoud; editing by Henriette Chacar and Mark Heinrich)