Gaza City, Gaza – Toqa al-Dalo cries relentlessly in a state of shock after hearing about the death of her best friend in Israel’s first air attack on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
As the 10-year-old got ready for school that morning, she saw her parents crying quietly. They had received word that Mayar Ezz El-Din, 10, was killed in the bombing of her home in the central Gaza Strip, along with her brother Ali, 7, and father Tariq Ezz El-Din.
“I can hardly believe what happened,” a weeping Toqa told Al Jazeera as she hugged a gift Mayar recently gave her after she broke her hand in an accident. “She was very kind and supported me during my injury. What was her fault and what was her little brother’s fault? Why did they kill her?”
Toqa recalled how they visited each other’s homes and were constantly messaging one other.
“I have known Mayar since we were in the first year of kindergarten, and we continued our friendship as classmates at school. She was my best friend. We were always in touch.”
Israel continued its air attacks on Gaza on Friday with the Palestinian death toll now at 31, including six children and four women. More than 100 people have been wounded as the attacks entered a fourth day. Rockets were also launched from Gaza into Israel.
Growing up before their time
Alaa and Mohammad al-Dalo, Toqa’s parents, tried to calm her down despite their own pain.
“It’s very difficult to see your child go through such a severe state of grief at this early age, when the child is supposed to be playing with friends, and not receiving the news of their horrible killing with their families while they are asleep,” Alaa told Al Jazeera.
“Our children in Gaza are growing up prematurely and are exposed to great traumas that are beyond their age and endurance.
“We parents are confused about how to deal with them,” she added, while wiping her daughter’s tears.
Toqa’s parents are concerned about her intense grief, but mostly fear her return to school where she won’t find Mayar by her side.
“This will greatly worsen her psyche,” said Mohammad.
“Toqa used to spend most of her time at school with Mayar and her brother Ali, who she used to play and chat with constantly because of his kindness and fun. Now there it became a heavy return to school on her heart,” he added.
Nightmare without end
Five-year-old Hajar al-Bahtini was killed along with her father Khalil Al-Bahtini, 45, and mother, Laila, 43, in an Israeli bombing, also on Tuesday, of their home in the Tofah neighbourhood east of Gaza City.
“We were sleeping safely. Suddenly we woke up to destruction, the sound of bombing and dust. I could not move because a wall had fallen on my feet,” said Hajar’s 14-year-old sister, Sara al-Bahtini, after she was discharged from hospital with a splint on her broken foot.
“My brothers were screaming near my parents’ room, which was burning,” she told Al Jazeera.
“When they put me in the ambulance, I saw my brothers screaming and crying. I was trying to deny the idea that it was possible that my parents had been killed, but I was shocked when I learned that Hajar was also killed with them.”
Sara said she sometimes “envies” Hajar because she is with her parents, and will not cry for their separation again.
“Hajar was the fruit of the house. Everyone loved her for her intelligence and wit, and because she was the youngest. What was her fault that she was murdered while she was sleeping?
“I feel like I’m living a catastrophe and an endless nightmare. I lost my mother, father and younger sister in a matter of moments. How will I and my six siblings continue life?” she added, bursting into tears.
Mohammad Daoud, 41, is in a state of shock, still reeling from the death of his four-year-old son, Tamim, who suffered from a heart ailment.
“Tamim woke up terrified because of the heavy shelling. He came running to his mother’s lap crying and trembling with fear,” said the father of two, recalling the attack.
“For a moment I didn’t realise that Tamim’s heart couldn’t stand it. I tried to calm him down, but his heart was beating so hard, as if it was going to fall out of place.”
He rushed Tamim to the children’s hospital for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but the doctors said the child’s condition had already deteriorated.
“Tamim stayed for hours in intensive care until he passed away late in the day,” Daoud said.
“He’s my only son with a cute smile. Very smart and active. It’s too much for us. It is true that my son was suffering from a chronic heart disease, but the terrifying Israeli strikes on the Strip are beyond bearable,” he said.
“Why should our children endure all this? A normal person trembles in fear of the severity of the bombing, so how about children and the sick?”
The United Nations children’s agency condemned the continuing attacks by Israel, noting six kids had been killed so far.
“This is not acceptable. All children must be protected, everywhere, from all forms of violence and grave violations, according to international humanitarian law,” UNICEF said in a statement.