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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 00:08 GMT
Living with fear in Gaza
Bombed police headquarters in Gaza
The scars of Israeli attacks can be seen everywhere
Tarik Kafala

The Palestinian Authority is keen to show the world the damage inflicted by recent Israeli air attacks in Gaza.

On a rare quiet day for the area, a group of nervous diplomats from Japan, Egypt, Tunisia and Qatar gathered for a tour of Palestinian military and police installations, and a residential area outside the city into which there have been Israeli ground incursions.

We hear the planes coming and the alarm goes up and we evacuate fast, or there would be dead and injured

Palestinian soldier
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's presidential compound just on the outskirts of Gaza City was the first stop. The complex has been attacked from the sea and air on several occasions.

The presidential palace is grand and strangely untouched by the devastation all around it.

We toured one bomb site after another - the army, the police, Force 17 and the navy have been attacked.

Running for their lives

According to the Palestinian Authority Israeli forces have caused more than $21m damage in the last 15 months of the intifada.

At one site, a talkative Palestinian soldier who seemed to be guarding a pile of rubble struck up a conversation.

He described what it was like coming under Israeli air attack.

Wreckage of helicopter at Yasser Arafat's compound
Arafat's presidential compound has been attacked more than once

"We hear the planes coming and the alarm goes up and we evacuate fast, or there would be dead and injured," the soldier said.

"The worst are the F-16 jets because they can strike at a long distance. And when the missile strikes, someone can be hurt 200 metres (220 yards) away from the point of impact. The F-16s can take you by surprise... it's very difficult to tell the direction of the missile."

Relative safety

As he spoke an F-16 passed high overhead, its oppressive drone seeming to tail it by some distance. All day, jets went by high above, without incident.

Pointing up, the soldier said: "Attacks can happen at any time, but we don't expect them now because the diplomats are here. I'd say we are safe, 70% secure. The diplomats have come from inside Israel so the Israelis know they are here."

The first shell came through the sitting room wall

Sabah al-Akhras
Palestinian resident
Israeli forces also launch regular ground incursions into Gaza.

The most recent was into the village of Beit Hanoun, which the Israeli army describes as a Hamas stronghold. Thirteen militants were arrested and some homes bulldozed.

The Israeli army destroyed the family home of Salah Shhada, the head of the military wing of Hamas.

Shelling error

Mr Shhada has been in hiding for some time, but his family had somehow been warned and had cleared the house in advance.

But when the Israeli troops arrived, they began by shelling the wrong house.

"The first shell came through the sitting room wall," said Sabah al-Akhras, a neighbour of the Shhada family.

Funeral of Palestinian border guard
The funeral was a mixture of Ramadan celebration and mourning

My husband wanted to get out the back of the house, but I told him not to, that they'd kill him. There's a garage under the house so we went into there."

"There was more shelling, so I went out of the side door of the garage holding up my hands. They told us they wanted the Shhada house. I told them we are the Akhras family," Mrs Akhras said.

Mr Akhras was arrested and taken away to Israel. His wife swears that he is not a member of Hamas and that he has papers that allow him to work in Israel.

Neither Mrs Akhras nor any of her eight children were injured, though they have no news of Mr Akhras.

Muted celebrations

On Tuesday, the funeral was held for a Palestinian border guard killed during the Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun.

An announcer at the funeral alternated between wishing the mourners a happy end of Ramadan feast and delivering an angry anti-Israeli diatribe.

Boy with donkey in Gaza
Against the odds the children remain irrepressible

The streets of Gaza city are quiet. Many of the shops closed, and the celebrations for the feast are muted here as they are in most of the Palestinian areas this year.

Only the children seem irrepressible, and on a sunny winter's day there were a few family clusters grilling fish on one of Gaza's beaches.

As the sun set, the traffic in the city got heavier and a little frantic as people rushed to get home before dark fell.

See also:

16 Dec 01 | Middle East
Gaza buildings hit by Israeli strikes
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israeli incursion in Gaza
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: A changing conflict
14 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Sharon's strategy
14 Dec 01 | Middle East
Analysis: End of the road for Arafat?
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