The family house was small: three rooms, a tiny kitchen and bathroom, built of poor-quality concrete bricks with a corrugated asbestos roof, in block four of the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. There are hundreds of similar homes crammed into the narrow streets, filled with some of the poorest and most vulnerable families in the overcrowded Gaza Strip.
But it was this house, where Anwar and Samira Balousha lived with their nine young children, that had the misfortune to be built next to what became late on Sunday night another target in Israel’s devastating bombing campaign.
An Israeli bomb struck the refugee camp’s Imad Aqil mosque around midnight, destroying the building and collapsing several shops and a pharmacy nearby. The force of the blast was so massive that it also brought down the Baloushas’ house, which yesterday lay in ruins.
The seven eldest girls were asleep together on mattresses in one bedroom and they bore the brunt of the explosion. Five were killed where they lay: Tahrir, 17, Ikram 15, Samer, 13, Dina, 8, and Jawahar, 4.
Imam, 16, lay in the room with her sisters, but by chance survived with only injuries to her legs. She was eventually pulled free and rushed to hospital.
Her parents had been sleeping in the room next door with their two youngest children, Mohammed, aged one, and Bara’a, a baby girl just 12 days old. Their room was damaged and all were hurt, but they survived and were taken straight to hospital.
Imam eventually recognized her uncle’s voice among the rescuers and she shouted again for help.
“He found me and started to remove the bricks and the rubble from me,” she said.
Her mother, Samira, 36, had seen the pile of bricks in the girls’ bedroom and was stricken with grief, convinced they were dead.
“I opened my eyes and saw bricks all over my body,” she said. “My face was covered with the concrete blocks.”
She sat on a sofa surrounded by other women at a neighbor’s house further along the street and struggled to speak, still overcome with shock.
“I hope the Palestinian military wings retaliate and take revenge with operations inside Israel,” she said.
Her husband, Anwar, 40, sat in another house where a mourning tent had been set up. He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying.
“We are civilians. I don’t belong to any faction, I don’t support Fatah or Hamas, I’m just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?” he asked.
“If the dead here were Israelis, you would see the whole world condemning and responding. But why is no one condemning this action? Aren’t we human beings?” he asked. “We are living in our land, we didn’t take it from the Israelis. We are fighting for our rights. One day we will get them back.”