Airstrike devastates Gaza family
GAZA (CNN) -- At the beginning of this week, 19 members of the extended Matar family lived together in a modest, two-story house in Gaza.
But in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, an Israeli F-16 fighter dropped a one-ton bomb on their neighborhood. Since then, the Matars have no home and they have buried five children and a mother -- bombing victims that Israel calls collateral damage.
The Matar family said it had no idea that their next door neighbor was Hamas militant leader Salah Shehade -- one of Israel's most wanted suspected terrorists. (Full story)
Shehade was the target of the Israeli attack. He was killed, along with 14 others, including nine children.
Dunia, the 2-month-old infant of Hanaa Matar, was the youngest victim. The mother and child were on the second floor at the time of the attack: Hanaa Matar survived with a broken arm and back and leg injuries.
"I was standing next to her, playing with her, and I heard the sound of a missile and then there was fire -- bright red fire. The house fell on top of me," Hanaa remembers.
"After that, I was in a tomb. I was in a grave and could barely breathe," she said.
Hanaa remembers being under the rubble for 20 minutes. But what followed her rescue was even worse for the young mother.
For almost two days, nobody would tell her that her that Dunia was dead or that it was her little girl that mourners carried through the streets of Gaza.
"The whole house knew my daughter had been killed. This whole time, I thought she was in the hospital. I would send my relatives to go check on Dunia. I described what she was wearing so they knew how to recognize her. They said she was fine. They were all afraid to tell me," Hanaa said.
But finally, they told her that Dunia had been killed. Hanaa passed out when they told her.
Her brother-in-law, Raed, was also on the second floor that night when the bomb fell. In that instant, he lost his wife, little girl and two young boys -- including Mohammed, killed on his third birthday.
Three days after the airstrike, the family were still digging out parts of his children from the rubble.
The Matars are typical of many in Gaza, where brothers, sister, nieces and nephews frequently all live under one roof with their parents. Times are tough here, and jobs are hard to find. But together, they get by.
Now, like many others, they are left asking how Israel could strike such a built-up area.
Israel said the civilian casualties -- especially the deaths of children -- were a tragic mistake. (More) But the Matar family doesn't accept that explanation.
"They know it is a residential area, and children will die, women will die and old people will die," said Mahaa. "This is normal for them -- there's no humanity, no mercy in their hearts."
Mahaa was up late that night studying for a university exam. She was in another room with her mother, sisters and cousin. All of them survived -- but like the rest of the house, that room is now little more than rubble.
The family has moved in with an aunt. And even after losing so much, Mahaa said they're grateful to God for what they still have. Their survival she said, is proof that miracles can happen.
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