Entire families 'wiped out' as war rages in Gaza
The Israeli military campaign comes in response to Hamas's shock raids into Israel on October 7.
RAFAH (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Sahar Awwad is seated between her two nephews. Together, they are among the few survivors of an extended Gaza family of which at least 80 members have been killed in nearly seven weeks of Israeli bombardment.
The entire family had fled first to a hospital in Khan Yunis, then to a school, which was initially transformed into a camp for the displaced then a clinic, in Rafah near the border with Egypt, the southernmost point of the besieged enclave.
Only 35 kilometres (20 miles) separated them from their former home in Gaza City, but the journey took them a week.
Last Friday, a strike hit their home in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood. "More than 80 family members died. The Awwad family was wiped out," Awwad told AFP.
"The survivors rushed to extract the dead and wounded from the debris and Israel struck a second time," she said.
"We could only bury those whose bodies had been sent flying all the way to the neighbours' homes" by the force of the explosion, she said.
They were unable to reach those under the rubble.
Her nephew Mossaab, 14, has had his leg amputated and his face is still covered in scars. His cousin Abboud, 12, has an IV drip protruding from his abdomen.
Abboud "doesn't know yet that his mother, two of his brothers, his sister and his grandmother are dead", Awwad said in tears.
Only his father survived. When their home was struck, they were both already being treated in hospital.
"That the only reason why they weren't injured," Awwad said.
"My older brother and his entire family are dead. My sister fled the north and is dead along with her husband and their children" even though they were in the south, she added.
Mossaab's extended family has "completely disappeared". Some of Awwad's other relatives have survived, only because they had already fled.
Theirs is just one among many families devastated by the 47 days of bombardment and siege on the tiny Palestinian territory, in which more than 14,100 people have been killed, according to the Hamas government.
The Israeli military campaign comes in response to Hamas's shock raids into Israel on October 7 which Israel says killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians.
On the road south, Awwad's son Mohammed, who was pushing his grandmother's wheelchair, was detained by the Israeli military.
"They released him yesterday, but he's in a terrible condition. He was tortured and stripped of his clothing.
"He couldn't speak and tell us what happened."
A few members of the family remain in Gaza City, refusing to flee until they find their loved ones and bury them.
"May God have mercy on those who were lost, but I am in terror over the rest. No one is left but them."
'LIVING ARE DEAD'
Fida Zayed was only 13 when she had her first son Udai. Today, he is 20, and they "grew up together", she said, along with her second son Qussai, 19, and her daughter Shahad, 17.
Zayed was with Udai just a few days ago.
"The last thing he said to me was that he was waiting for the truce on Friday, and he asked me to prepare him a feast of rice and chicken," she said.
"Dozens died in a heavy air strike. I walked over 50 bodies of dead and injured people, looking for Udai.
"Everything was covered in dust and smoke. I could only identify him by his belt," she said.
"We were all standing together, but God chose him as a martyr."
The family had to bury Udai themselves, she recalled.
"We were displaced to a school in Rafah the next day. I didn't feel like I was injured in my back," she said.
"The pain in my heart and chest made me forget about my body. My heart bleeds, not my back."
When she arrived at the hospital in Rafah, doctors found her wound was infected. It was cleaned and she received 17 stitches.
Before he died, Udai had received a rare Israeli permit to travel to the occupied West Bank to attend the Palestinian Authority's military academy in Jericho.
He had been due to start on October 12, but he "travelled to another place with no return", she said.
"Gaza is dark as a grave. I hope me and my children die here so we don't have to mourn each other," the mother said.
"The living here are the ones who are dead."