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Family of nine killed by Israeli air strike on Gaza's bloodiest day

Monday, 19 November 2012 - 1:10pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

As Hamas police struggled to control furious friends and relatives attempting to force their way into the morgue to see the bodies, Palestinian emergency teams were still digging through the rubble of the home on Nasser Street, in central Gaza City.

The four youngest members of the El Dallo family were the first to arrive at the Shifa hospital morgue.

Sara, 7, Jamal, 6, Yusef, 4, and Ibrahim, 2, the children of reported Hamas member Mohamed El Dallo, were laid two abreast on metal trays, swathed in white.

Only their small, distorted faces were left exposed to the local camera crews, jostling to capture the latest victims of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence on film.

Nine members of the family and two neighbours were inside the family home when the Israeli missile struck, fired from an F16 jet shortly before 3pm yesterday (Sunday).

Every one of them was killed, all women and children. Dallo, who was not at home, survived.

As Hamas police struggled to control furious friends and relatives attempting to force their way into the morgue to see the bodies, Palestinian emergency teams were still digging through the rubble of the home on Nasser Street, in central Gaza City.

Ten of the family members had already been found but a 20-year-old woman was still missing underneath the dirt and stone of her home.

The devastating strike is the bloodiest single incident of this four-day old conflict. It was launched as optimistic reports from anonymous Israeli military officials circulated in the local media suggesting that crisis talks taking place in Cairo may soon produce a ceasefire.

As ambulances carrying more bodies of Dallo family members raced into Shifa hospital, Salama Maroof, a senior Hamas spokesman, told The Daily Telegraph that there was little chance that hopes of a truce could be realised when Israeli strikes were continuing with such a human cost. "Israel has killed a family of 11 people this evening, and many, many more. If Israel wants to stop its aggression, then we can talk. But before then, how could we consider any deal?" Maroof said.

Major Guy Spigelman, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces, confirmed that jets had struck the home of a Hamas official in the afternoon, adding that there would be an investigation into the multiple deaths of civilians.

"We never deliberately target civilians," Major Spigelman said. "We will be investigating this incident but I would like to remind you that we have carried out more than 1,000 missions [in the past four days]."

He could give no more information about Dallo's activities within Hamas, which is the elected government in Gaza but also has military wing.

The attack supported reports that Israel's target list had been expanded in the past couple of days to include more homes of Hamas members.

Shehda El Dallo, a relative of the family, rushed to the site having heard the blast from his home nearby. He found the two-storey house levelled, plumes of dust and smoke rising from the foundations. A truck parked outside had been rendered a mangled wreck of metal.

Dallo's grandfather lived next door. The force of the explosion had ripped the outside wall from his house, exposing the living room. Perched on the wreckage of his furniture, Shedha El Dallo described the painstaking process of pulling bodies from the wreckage.

"The four children were found together. Another woman, we don't know if it was their mother yet, was in the front of the house. Their grandmother was found somewhere here," he said, pointing vaguely into the mess of concrete, plaster and metal struts.

A small group of men from the neighbourhood stood in the middle of the tree-lined residential street, peering past emergency vehicles to watch the diggers at work. No one could say why the house had been targeted. There was no police station nearby, no Hamas officials or headquarters in the area.

They said Mohammed El Dallo owned a grocery store in the centre of town. "He wasn't politically affiliated," his relative insisted. "They were just a normal family. This is just a normal street. They said the kids had been watching TV when the bomb hit."

In a separate air strike, the Israelis said they targeted Ihiar Bia, a rocket manufacturing expert affiliated with Hamas, in Gaza City at 2.30pm yesterday. It is not know if he was killed. More than 60 Palestinians have now been killed in Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza, most of them civilians, many of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run ministry of health.

The morning saw the funerals of three-year-old Tamir Salam and his two-year-old sister, killed as they slept in bed with their parents when their house was hit in an F16 strike at 2am. They were the only children of Salam Ibrahim and his wife.

"I was sleeping, everything happened so suddenly. I heard the blast then the bedroom wall collapsed on our bed," he said.

When the smoke cleared, he saw that his children were dead.

He said he had gone to bed feeling safe for the first time in days, having been buoyed by news of progress in peace talks in Cairo.

The Israeli military confirmed that no rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel between 12am and 7am yesterday. But while relative calm took hold across Israeli skies, it was a night of heavy bombardment in Gaza, with more than an hour of heavy artillery fire from Israeli naval boats at targets along the Gaza coast line. Yesterday morning, the sirens were sounding in Tel Aviv and Ashqelon again.

According to Maroof, Hamas is negotiating for more than just the cessation of Israeli air strikes. Any resolution to this conflict would require Israel to lift its five-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"The Egyptian president has said that we are nearing a deal but the situation here on the ground is very different. Today 20 people were killed, most of them women," Maroof said. "Israel started this war with its assassination of Ahmed Al-Jaabari [the Hamas military commander]. If the Israeli government agrees to stop this violence, then we can start to talk."

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