Eyewitness Report from Gaza: Tel Al-Hawa: The invasion and then after

19 January 2009

From Maan News Agency http://maannews.net/en

The embers of Tel Al-Hawa continue to burn. The smoke from the fire and concrete dust cloud the air, and carry the thick smell of burning and rotting bodies.

This street, up until Thursday was one of the most luxurious streets in Gaza City, built by the Palestinian Authority in the late 1990s.

Rather than flowers, glittering glass and stone a walk through Tel Al-Hawa two days after the Israeli invasion into the area, burnt cars with burned bodies, half demolished apartment towers and torn up roads are what greet passersby. The hospital is where most residents call home now.

Ma’an visited the destroyed neighborhood, and asked about the burned car at the main street’s entrance. A former resident told reporters that the car was owned by Oday Salameh Haddad. He was in his car fleeing the area after hours of Israeli tank fire and troops running home to home. He got in his car with his wife Husna, 45, his son Hatem, 21, and his daughter Aya, 15.

An Israeli tank fired on the car, killing all four. The burned car still sits in the center of the road.

Another hundred meters down the road are the Red Crescent buildings and the Al-Quds Hospital. The hospital was shelled during Israel’s 24-hour incursion into the residential neighborhood. The compound is also still smoking, mostly from the administration entrance and the adjacent pharmacy, and some sections are in ruins.

Many of the ambulances in the yard are damaged; the ones that survived the attacks were transferred to other hospitals or out in the field collecting the newest dead.

Israeli troops were stationed at the former Niztarim settlement south of Gaza City’s newest neighborhood. The tanks and armored vehicles advanced quickly to the outskirts of Tel Al-Hawa. They entered after midnight on Thursday morning and did not leave until just before sun-up on Friday.

First there were a series of airstrikes, then the tanks moved in, then the ground troops moved home to home, breaking through walls avoiding exposure in the streets.

Meanwhile families heard the noises. They knew troops had been massing in the nearby evacuated settlement, and tanks had approached and withdrawn several nights in a row. Many had already fled the area; others had nowhere else to go.

Troops had not yet penetrated the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza City, many refused to believe they would. As gunfire sounds became louder and more frequent, many families fled.

Witnesses also reported that Israeli soldiers invaded residential buildings, ordering locals to leave. Hundreds fled to other parts of the city. Fadel Al-Batran and his 19-year-old daughter Hanin were gunned down as they fled their home.

Eighteen year-old Muhammad Majed Husein, 19-year-old Tha’er Suhel Ali Hassan, 42-year-old Fathi Dawoud Al-Qarm, 12-year-old Tafileh Esmat and his cousin Ala, also 12-years-old, were all killed in the streets as they fled the advancing troops.

Fifteen-year-old Muhamad AJ-Jojo did not make it out of his home, and was crushed by falling concrete after an Israeli tank fired on the building.

Many of those who fled their homes sought shelter in mosques and school buildings. Israeli fire hit two of the neighborhoods mosques, the Balqis Girl’s School and the Rosary Girls’ School.

Witnesses said that Israeli soldiers abducted several non-combatant residents of the neighborhood, and took them with the withdrawing force.

When the troops finally withdrew, the bodies of ten Palestinian fighters were found in the streets and the debris,

Hussam Al-Jam’asy, 35
Rebhi Shuhebar, 25
Medhat Abed, 24
Hamdi Ibrahim Al-Banna, 23
Farid Al-Helo, 23
Mu’taz Abdel Muttaleb Dahman, 21
Tamer Faza, 20
Na’im Hamadeh, 20
Mahmoud Abu Salim, 19
Ammar Farawneh, 18

Some families have returned to their homes after spending crowded nights with relatives, or anyone who would house them, other only returned to collect some belongings and will remain in schools or UN shelters.

The Issam home in west-central Gaza City provided safety to some of the Tel Al-Hawa residents. More than 20 children and their parents from four families sought refuge in the small building. One family, who only knew Mr Issam from frequenting his shop, arrived on the doorstep in their pajamas. They stayed for a day and a half until the sounds of gunfire stopped, then left, though they did not say for where.