Disabled Palestinians unable to escape Israeli air strike
International pressure to curb civilian casualties is mounting as a charitable centre in Gaza is destroyed in an Israeli attack targeting a suspected militant
A boy carries a wheelchair amid the debris of the Gaza home where two disabled people were killed
A Palestinian boy carries a damaged wheelchair amid the debris of the Gaza home where two disabled people were killed by an Israeli air strike. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuter
Who knows who lived in the two first-floor apartments above a home for eight disabled adults in a neighbourhood of eastern Gaza? Perhaps, as a neighbour suggests, one was a militant with Islamic Jihad who lived there with his family. But the neighbour says he is not sure. What is certain is that the occupant was absent early on Saturday when two Israeli drones “knocked on his roof” – firing warning shots to encourage civilians to vacate the building prior to a strike.
A few minutes later, an Israeli warplane fired a missile into the house. But it did not detonate on the first floor. Instead, it smashed through to the ground floor, where the explosion ripped through the room where five of the disabled people were sleeping, killing two and injuring the others.
A neighbour found one of the dead after he noticed flies buzzing around where she was buried. “A body! A body!” the man shouted. Gingerly he lifted the piece of concrete concealing a curly head of hair, face down in the debris.
Atef Abed, a supervisor with the private charity that runs the home, recognised Suha Abu Saada, 47, as her body was dug out of the rubble, one of her legs missing. As small as a child, she had been thrown out of the room where she was sleeping by the blast and buried beneath a concrete wall.
“That’s Suha,” Abed said as the body was carried past on a mattress covered in a blanket. “Ola Wishaa was 30. She was killed as well. And Ahmed was injured along with Mai and Sali. Luckily two of the other residents were away visiting their families.”
It seemed a miracle that anyone could have survived a missile that exploded in the very centre of a room where a fin and part of its guidance system remained embedded in the concrete. A scorched bed stood to one side, damaged by the blast, which blew out the walls and left palm trees in the garden as truncated stumps standing among the rubble. “The bomb came straight through the roof,” said Mohammad Bari, 22, who lives next door. “About 4.30am two drones fired warning shots and then the jet came in and bombed.”
The residents were barely mobile, said neighbours, spending their time in bed or in wheelchairs, and could not escape. Imad Abu Shedek denied there had been Palestinian missile fire nearby. “There was no resistance here. The guy upstairs, I heard he was maybe affiliated with Islamic Jihad, but he wasn’t there. The first I knew was when I heard the air strike and got here and saw the bodies.” An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was looking into why the centre was targeted.