GAZA CITY: Residents of the Gaza Strip fear another war with Israel is looming after the most intense airstrikes on the enclave for four years.
Israeli fighter jets, helicopters, drones and tanks hit dozens of military targets in the area on Tuesday and the early hours of Wednesday, terrifying Palestinian civilians in nearby residential neighborhoods. There were no reports of casualties.
The attacks came after Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired rockets and mortars at southern Israel. Both groups have since declared that a cease-fire has been agreed following Egyptian mediation, but Israel denied the existence of any such deal.
Iman Abu Zaher, a 25-year-old student, was among the residents who thought Tuesday’s bombing “was war again.”
Currently waiting for the travel documents she needs to complete her master’s degree abroad, she told Arab News that she is torn between wanting to stay in the strip with her family and wanting to flee before the next round of bloodshed begins.
“I was thinking could I leave my family here to face their fate alone if there is a war or should I stay with them and share their suffering?” she said. In the end, she decided that “I have to run away from here.”
Her friend Sahar Al-Khatib told Arab News that she stayed awake all night as the sounds of the Israeli airstrikes and the Hamas rockets echoed across Gaza.
“My husband and I were talking about our scenario in the event of war. What would we do? Would we stay at home or run away somewhere else?” she said. “We agreed to put our valuables in one place so that we could escape quickly if something difficult happened.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said that their rocket attacks were in retaliation for recent Israeli strikes on their positions. Israel claimed about 100 rockets and mortars were fired from the strip, with many of them intercepted by its Iron Dome air defense system.
There is now widespread trepidation among residents of Gaza that another escalation is inevitable.
Israel last went to war in Gaza in 2014, when the UN found that 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, in a conflict that lasted just 50 days. Up to 500,000 residents were displaced. Earlier conflicts took place in 2012 and 2008-2009.
Ibrahim Khalil, a 47-year-old father of six, said that wars with Israel were “like the World Cup” and happened every four years.
“I want to see my children living in peace and security. I have spent a few years in Israel jails and I do not want my children to suffer what I have suffered in the past,” he said.
He told Arab News that Hamas and the other Palestinian factions did not want another conflict with Israel and defended their use of rockets and mortars.
“They had to stop the repeated attacks of the occupation — the bombing and killing — without a response. We also have dignity,” he said.
Home to around 2 million people, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and has been under an Israeli air, land and sea blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the strip from its main political rival,
The blockade has plunged the economy into recession and devastated local infrastructure. Recent reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have stalled, adding to the sense of anger and frustration among people here.
Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians since mass protests against the occupation began in Gaza on March 30, with the worst of the violence coming on May 14, when 60 Palestinians died.
Ahmed Shawa told Arab News that he hoped there would be another war with Israel because the “Gaza Strip cannot tolerate the cruelty of life anymore.”
He said, “Israel must suffer as we suffer. It must think carefully about everything it does against us.”
The unemployed university graduate added, “We die anyway, so the question is do we die slowly or quickly?”