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GAZA CITY, - Tamer was nine, and no child soldier. He did not live in the area from where home-made rockets are launched into Israeli territory. The day he was killed, he was at least two kilometres from the place Israeli troops had entered Gaza, and met with return fire by Palestinian resistance.
His tragedy was that the family home was near Deir al-Balah in the middle of the Gaza Strip, close to the area the Israelis have set up as their Kussfim base.
"We were all inside the house when shooting started," Tamer's aunt Etaf tells IPS. "It was right after members of the Palestinian resistance stopped shooting at Israeli troops," she said, pointing towards the scene of those clashes a couple of kilometres away. But the Israelis marched into this area as well, hardly for the first time.
Members of the family decided to crawl out into the rain after a bullet hit a gas cylinder, Etaf said. "But Israeli soldiers continued to fire on us from a tank and Hummer military jeep." After some time, seeing that the gas cylinder had not exploded, Etaf said she crawled back into the house. Tamer followed, but never made it. "I saw Tamer shot, with a bullet in his head."
"He wanted to become a doctor when he grew up," says his mother Sabah Abu Shaar.
Like Tamer, other children are dying, and their mothers' dreams with them. A six-month infant named Mohammed al-Bourai was killed when an Israeli missile crashed into the house Wednesday this week, moments after he'd been fed. The family house happens to be close to the offices of Gaza's ministry of interior, and to the house of de facto Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Hanyieh.
The same day, three other Palestinian children were killed in an air strike. The following day, four Palestinian children were killed near the Jabaliya refugee camp while playing soccer. Two of the boys, all aged 7 to 14, were from the same family. A child's body was found in eastern Gaza, a victim of Israeli shelling.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs says in a Gaza fact sheet that 80 Palestinians were killed in January of this year, and 82 were injured. The January deaths included four children and five women. The Israeli casualties through the month were nine injuries from home-made rockets.
Just over the past three days, Israeli air strikes have killed at least 35 Palestinians, among them nine children. Many more are injured, and some are in critical condition.
Following Friday prayers, tens of thousands of Gazans came out on the streets in protest against the Israeli air strikes. Matan Vilnai, Israeli deputy defence minister, has said that Gaza faces a "holocaust" if the home-made rockets do not stop. Since May 2007, these rockets have killed one Israeli.
Emergency medical care is now threatened. The head of the ambulance department at Shifa hospital says he has just 20 litres of fuel left in stock for the ambulances. Once this runs out, little help will be available to victims of the next Israeli attacks.
Israeli attacks and firing are now so continuous that many in Deir al-Balah say they cannot sleep. "We can't feel safe here," says Tashaeel, one of Tamer's elder sisters. "If we'd also left with Tamer, their bullets would have made a harvest of us all."
The family has tried in vain for UN help in moving to another area. "Bullets chase us day and night," says mother Sabah. "We can't go out, and we have nowhere else to go. No money to move to a safer place where I could save the lives of my children.
"Last week Israeli soldiers had attacked out house, and ordered my seven daughters, two sons and myself into the rain, with their dangerous dogs scaring us away," Sabah said.
"Then they ransacked our house for several hours, leaving it in total chaos before we were allowed back in." Such raids are common, she said. Tamer was killed in the next one. The grieving family is now without water after bullets punctured the overhead tank. The walls of the house are pock-marked with bullet holes. And all the time they fear that Israeli bulldozers will bring down this too.
As Palestinians in Gaza wait for more Israeli attacks, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has expressed strong concern. "These events underscore the urgent need for a calming of violence, and must not be allowed to deter the continuation of the political process," he said. But such statements mean little on the ground, and people in Gaza see no international action to stop Israel.
"Gaza today faces a real war, a crazy war," Haniyeh said during Friday prayers near the Shati refugee camp. He also criticised the U.S. for accepting Israeli claims of 'legitimate self-defence'. Despite Israel's best attempts at ostracising Haniyeh, his popularity seems only to have increased.
Photos: Mohammed Omer and Tamar Abu Shaar