With empty streets and drawn curtains, Gaza now feels like a ghost town. Its residents — tested by repeated wars — feel like they are living the same scenes again and again.
Before Israel launched what it says were pre-emptive strikes targeting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip, the territory was enjoying a summer unlike any other in recent years.
Gaza’s beaches, long deemed too polluted with wastewater for swimmers, had been declared mostly usable again, allowing Palestinians swimmers and surfers to rediscover the joys of the sea.
All that came to an abrupt halt on Friday when Israel began a bombing campaign in the territory, citing threats from Islamic Jihad. Israel said it was forced to launch the strikes as the PIJ was planning an imminent attack to “mow down” Israeli soldiers or civilians following days of tensions along the border.
“We were living in peace and suddenly the bombardment began,” said 40-year-old Mohammed Hamami.
“Enough! Enough!” he exclaimed. “Each month or each year there is a war.”
Islamic Jihad had been threatening since Tuesday to attack — to reinforce its demand that Israel release its West Bank commander, Bassem Saadi, who was arrested in an IDF raid in Jenin on Monday — causing days of road closures and community lockdowns in areas near the Gaza border under immediate threat.
Israeli leaders said they could not continue to be “held hostage” by a terror group that had brought life near the border to a standstill.
Following the Israeli strikes in Gaza, the group has retaliated with barrages of hundreds of rockets against communities throughout southern and into central Israel, repeatedly sending civilians there scrambling to shelters.
There have been four major conflicts since 2007 between Israel and armed groups from Gaza after Hamas seized control of the Strip from the Palestinian Authority.
The beach promenade, one of the impoverished and overcrowded territory’s rare leisure spots, crowded less than 24 hours earlier, was desolate on Saturday. Street vendors stayed home and cafes were closed.
Fifteen months after the last conflict between Israel and terror groups in the territory brought devastation, Hamami said he was “surprised” that Israel had attacked again.
Israel’s army said its latest campaign was targeting terror sites and fighters, estimating that 10-15 combatants had been killed.
The Hamas-run health ministry has reported 13 deaths from Israeli fire including a five-year-old girl, Alaa Kaddum. More than 110 other people have been wounded, the ministry said.
For Gazans, the long night and second day of Israeli strikes stirred familiar and unwelcome emotions.
“This latest escalation brings back images of fear, anxiety, and the feeling that we are all alone,” said Dounia Ismail, a Gaza City resident.
The incessant explosions and air strikes had kept her up all night, she said.
“It has become a habit for Palestinians in Gaza to prepare a survival bag, which contains a few important things, like photos, documents and some money and medicine” in case they have to flee their homes, said Ismail.
“I hope this escalation won’t turn into a bigger conflict and I hope the Egyptian mediation will restore calm.”
In Jabalia, in Gaza’s north, Fouad Farajallah inspected what remained of his home, hit by an Israeli strike on Friday.
The living room had turned into a mass of sheet metal and rubble, the fan dangling from the ceiling.
“I was sitting here on the sofa, with my wife and children, and suddenly it all fell on us,” he said. “My wife broke her hand and my son was wounded by shrapnel.”