Gaza family flees as home destroyed a second time

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli airstrike amid Israel-Gaza fighting in Deir al-Balah town

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) -Fatima Bashir's family had a few minutes warning before an Israeli air strike destroyed their home in the Deir Al-Balah area of Gaza for the second time in a decade, leaving only a mass of rubble, broken furniture and scattered household items.

Shortly before the strike, smaller projectiles hit the house, a tactic used by Israel's military to alert civilians of an imminent attack which gives them just enough time to run outside.

"We heard a noise. Our neighbours were shouting, 'Get out of the house! Evacuate the house!', so we ran away, into the street," she said. "We got nothing out."

In 2014, during a previous round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, the Bashir's home was also hit.

"They destroyed our homes before and we rebuilt it, and this time we will rebuild it too," she added.

According to officials from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, the latest round of Israeli air strikes, which began on Tuesday, have destroyed 15 residential blocks, containing more than 50 apartments. In addition, 940 buildings have been damaged, 49 beyond repair.

In response, Palestinian militants have fired hundreds of rockets across the border, sending one and a half million Israelis into air raid shelters.

Israel, which said it targeted command centres of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, ruled out an immediate truce on Saturday, saying the onus was on Palestinian militants to stop launching rockets. The Islamic Jihad said it wanted Israel to commit to stopping targeting militant leaders.

It says it takes every effort to limit civilian casualties and damage, and accuses the militant group of hiding command centres and other military sites in residential areas.

"Prior to these strikes, the Israeli Defence Forces took every feasible measure to mitigate harm to civilians as much as possible," the Israeli military said.

Eyad Al-Bozom, spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry, rejected the Israeli allegation, saying they meant to "justify their crimes against innocent civilians".

"We stress that the residential blocks destroyed by the occupation were inhabited by civilians. Allegations by the occupation that these houses contained military targets are false and incorrect," Bozom said in a statement.

Israeli security officials sometimes call families shortly before their houses are hit to tell them to get out.

In Gaza City, Hazem Muhana, 62, said his extended family of 55 people, was given only minutes to leave their five-floor residential building before it was bombed to the ground.

The family has now been divided and is being hosted by neighbours. "He told me you have five minutes to leave," Muhana said.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; editing by Mark Potter and Jason Neely)