Air raids on Gaza: "There are no warning sirens or shelters here"

The Israeli army launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Monday. Named 'Operation Protective Edge', the Israeli Defence Forces say it is a counter-terrorism operation against Hamas and other militants. But unarmed civilians seem to be the ones suffering the consequences.


Screengrab of a video showing Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

The Israeli army launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Monday night. Named 'Operation Protective Edge', the Israeli Defence Forces say it is a counter-terrorism operation against Hamas and other militants. But unarmed civilians seem to be the ones suffering the consequences. Our Observer in Gaza told us about the panic sweeping across the region.

As the Israeli offensive continued on Friday, Palestinian militants continued firing rockets deep into the Jewish state. On Wednesday, one of our Observers in Tel Aviv described what it's like for residents living under the constant threat of rocket attacks. But for Palestinians living inside Gaza, our Observer says there are neither warning sirens nor shelters in which to hide.

A missile launched at Yebna, a refugee camp in Rafah.

“Even with targeted strikes, it’s impossible to avoid civilian casualties”

Rany Hemaid is a lecturer at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza.

There is no respite… the jets bomb us all day long and then the raids intensify as soon as night falls. Even right now as I am speaking to you, there are missiles falling not far from my house.

Here, there are no warning sirens. Only the noise of the F-16s warn us that the bombs are close… but we don’t have any bomb shelters anyway. Faced with the choice of being outside in the street or inside your house, you might as well stay at home.

I live in a 7th-floor apartment with my family in northern Gaza. I know that they say that it’s best to go to a lower level during an air raid, but the Israeli rockets are too strong for any precautions like that to actually make a difference. If a building is hit, it’s usually levelled.

We spend days shut up in our homes. We only go out when it is really necessary, like when we have to go look for food. Yesterday, I risked going to a zone where the electricity wasn’t cut off. The streets were empty and most of the shops were closed. The city showed no signs of life.

Because of all the air strikes happening at night, it’s impossible to sleep. We watch the bombs light up the Gaza sky and hope we're not the next target. It’s only at dawn that we manage to get a bit of sleep.

A few seconds after a warning missile, a house was bombed. The cameraman, afraid of continued fire, tells the children to stay back.

“The army warns residents about fifteen seconds before bombing the target”

Israeli military authorities say that their strikes are targeted and that they are only bombing militants who belong to Hamas. Even if you believe that’s what the army is really trying to do, the population density [Editor's note: Gaza has the highest in the world with more than 4,000 residents/km²] means that it is impossible to avoid civilian casualties during these operations, especially when they take place close to refugee camps that are already overpopulated. Moreover, the leaders of Hamas and the al-Qassam brigades are not at home during the air raids. In the best case scenario, their houses are empty. In the worst case scenario, their wives and children are at home. In each case, it’s civilians, not militants, who are killed.

The Israeli army also says that it warns residents before launching a missile at a target. Ok, sometimes they do send out a warning missile before bombing a house or an apartment building but they don’t do it systematically and they give residents less than 15 seconds to hide themselves. Where can you go in such a small amount of time? When they do manage to get out, people stay outside, keeping to the sides of the streets. They wait for the end of the bombardment to go back home, to help their friends and family or, at the very least, to try and save a few possessions.

Israel launched air strikes a week after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank on 12 June. Blaming Hamas militants for the murders, the Israeli government began raids on the Gaza Strip, which has led to at least 76 deaths and more than 600 wounded in three days. One of the wounded was a journalist for Palestinian news agency Media 24.

Hamas has thus far fired about 550 rockets into Israel, most of which have been intercepted by the Israeli missile defence system 'Iron Dome'. So far, there have been reports of one serious casualty.

This article was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).