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The unintended victims of Israeli attacks

Wounded Palestinian boy Ahmed Walid Saada, 3 ,is embraced by his Grandmother Saaba Saada, 55 and his mother Rafah at the Kamal Adwan Hospital November 20,2012. The boy was wounded in his chest when he was traveling on a donkey cart with his grandmother from the market in Jabalya when an explosive device targeted a nearby Palestinian militant who was killed .

Heidi Levine/Heidi Levine/Sipa Press

Ayman al Sarabani has seen plenty of casualties in 10 years in the emergency department of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. But he had tears in his eyes as he showed cellphone videos of unsuccessful efforts to save two babies in the early days of Israel's recent attack against Hamas in Gaza.

One baby, about a year old, had suffered burns over most of her body. Her shallow breathing would soon stop, Dr. al Sarabani said. The other infant, perhaps 10 months old, had stopped breathing and the emergency staff was administering CPR with only two fingers to try to revive him. "Imagine," he said, "if this baby was yours."

Israel expressed pride in carrying out what it called surgical air strikes against Hamas infrastructure and military targets in eight days of attacks. To a very large degree, its strikes were very precise and there is every evidence that they sought to avoid civilian casualties. But by the end of the operation, 158 Palestinians were reported to have been killed, 103 of them civilians and at least 33 of those children, according to the United Nations.

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These are the cases of three families, none of whom appear to have had any connection to Hamas or any other militant faction in Gaza. They were the collateral damage, the unintended victims of this conflict. All were brought, between Sunday and Tuesday morning last week, to the 70-bed Kamal Adwan Hospital in this city of about 70,000 in the north end of the Gaza Strip, near the frontier with Israel.

The Abu Seifan family

The Israeli missile that brought tragedy to the Abu Seifan family the morning of Nov. 18 exploded more than 10 meters from their house at the north end of Beit Lahiya. No one was supposed to be hurt except the young men who, apparently, were preparing to launch a rocket against Israel from the open plot of land just across the road from the Abu Seifan home.

It's unlikely the Israeli forces that fired the highly accurate missile even know the consequences of their action – that a slab of asphalt, roughly 80 by 60 centimetres and 25 centimetres thick, flew into the air and crashed through the loose corrugated metal roof that was held in place by a few bricks.

The slab landed on the bed where Tamer Abu Seifan, 3 ½, slept with his one-year-old sister, Jomana, alongside their father, Salama. It killed both children and injured the father. The mother, Reda, was spared any physical injury.

This is a poor house. Mr. Abu Seifan, 28, only works occasionally sewing clothes, his younger brother Mohammed said. The family of four slept in a room above a makeshift chicken coop. Pictures of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were on the walls., as well as a poster of the Egyptian soccer club, Zamalek, and another of a heart-throb Syrian singer. The only other room in the family's apartment is a cinder-block kitchen with an old refrigerator and tiny sink. In the hall is a picture of Yasser Arafat.

A hopscotch course drawn on the landing of the inside concrete staircase was where Tamer would play with his cousinswho lived in another unit of the same house.

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The Dwar Hamad neighbourhood, with several open areas, is one where militants fire rockets at Israel. Fawaz Abu Seifan, Salama's older brother, said he moved his family into the centre of Beit Lahiya "because of the danger."

The Hijazi family

There appears to be no good reason why a powerful bomb landed on the Hijazi home in central Beit Lahiya. There are no open areas where militants might have been launching rockets, nor was Fuad Hijazi, a 44-year-old father of eight, connected to any militant Palestinian faction. He worked as a security guard at a United Nations school.

But last Monday evening, as Mr. Hijazi watched television with his family, his one-storey home took a direct hit. Two of the children, Mohammed, 4, and Suhaib, 2, were killed., their bodies found in the rubble of one of the concrete walls that had been blown into an adjacent lane. Several colourful children's books were strewn around the debris.

Mr. Hijazi also was killed. His wife, Amnah, was found – alive but injured – in the laundry room of the house next door, apparently blown there when the wall between the houses collapsed.

Two of the other six children, including Mohammed's twin brother, remain in the Kamal Adwan Hospital. The others were released and are at the homes of relatives.

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The family had moved last year to Beit Lahiya from the refugee camp in nearby Jabaliya, and built a decent three-room house, with a kitchen and proper bathroom. "They thought they had escaped all the danger when they moved here," said Mohammed Saleh, a next-door neighbour.

The Saada family

Ahmed Saada was lucky – he's still alive.

The three-year-old boy had been with his grandmother to the market in Jabalya, south of Beit Lahiya, Tuesday morning. The amiable youngster liked riding on the family's donkey-drawn cart, and the pair were bringing home their purchases of vegetables and fruit, when fate intervened.

"We were just passing a young fighter on the street," the grandmother, Saaba Saada, 55, said, holding the toddler in her arms as she told the story. "He [the fighter] was carrying his weapon over his shoulder, like this," she said, drawing her hand straight down her side as if she were feeling a rifle's shoulder strap.

"All of a sudden there was this loud blast," she said. "It was terrifying."

The donkey bolted and Ahmed cried out. A piece of metal had been embedded in his chest, just below his throat.

The fighter was killed by the blast, probably launched from one of the Israeli drones that hover over the Strip. Men on the street helped subdue the Saadas's donkey and brought cloths to stanch Ahmed's bleeding, being careful not to push the metal deeper into the boy's chest.

Ambulances arrived quickly – they seem never to stand still for long – and transported the child and shaken grandmother to the hospital just a few minutes away. "It's forbidden to hurt a child like this," said the grandmother, her eyes red from crying. "What did he do to deserve this?"

After the conflict ended last week, senior Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev, writing in the Haaratez newspaper, noted that Israel's national poet, Haim Nahman Bialik, had penned a terrible warning that "vengeance for the blood of a little child has yet to be invented by Satan."

"I don't know if he was referring only to Jewish children" Mr. Shalev wrote, but "his searing words are also applicable if the blood of the child in question is spilled by accident, as 'collateral damage.'"

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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