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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Gaza strike brings family tragedy
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

Relatives grieve during the funerals of the three family members
Israel says it will hold an inquiry into the attack
The small figure of Mariyah Amin lies in intensive care in a Gaza City hospital.

A fragment of shrapnel from an Israeli rocket has severed her spinal cord, and she will never move her arms or legs again.

In fact Mariyah will never even breathe again - at least not on her own.

Tubes link her to an artificial respirator, and every few seconds it fills her lungs. This is how it will have to be for the rest of her life - and she is only three years old.

Just a day earlier, Mariyah had been on her way across Gaza City to visit her auntie. Her whole family was in the car with her.

They were caught in the blast when the Israeli air force struck at a nearby vehicle carrying an Islamic Jihad militant.

Mariyah was not the only casualty.

Her five-year-old brother, Mohannad, her mother, Naimeh, and her grandmother, Hannan, are all dead.

I have lost the greatest things I had. These were children and they had not yet known the happiness of life
Hamdi Amin

After their funeral, relatives and friends gathered to mourn in the sandy street outside the family's home.

Mariyah's father, Hamdi, sat on a chair and wept.

He had just buried his mother, his wife and his son.

He had been in the car with them when it was hit and he had pulled their broken, bleeding bodies from the wreckage.

Later, when he had the strength, he said, "I have lost the greatest things I had. These were children and they had not yet known the happiness of life. And my mother. Can anyone bear losing their mother?"

Mr Amin said that his daughter was "hanging between life and death", and he asked how he might try to find treatment for her abroad.

They will do their best for her at Gaza's Shiffa Hospital, but it is now so run-down that the staff have not even been paid for well over two months.

'Justified' attacks

Palestinian firemen attempt to put out flames from the explosion
Mohammed al-Dahdouh was in a separate car from the family members

The intended target of the Israeli air attack was a man named Mohammad Dahdouh - who was killed instantly.

Islamic Jihad described him as one of its "senior engineers". He worked on developing the rockets that his group fires from Gaza into neighbouring Israel.

These are crudely made devices, that rarely cause serious injury or fatalities.

But militants like Dahdouh have no qualms about endangering Israeli civilians - quite the opposite. They regard them as legitimate targets.

A rocket fired from Gaza on Sunday crashed into a school classroom in the nearby Israeli town of Sderot. By chance, all the pupils were away at morning prayers and nobody was hurt.

In the view of Islamic Jihad, Israel does not only occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

We acted only after waiting a long time for the right occasion
Eliezer Shkedi, Israeli air force chief

The group regards all of Israel as occupied Palestinian land. And the militants who fire the missiles often say that they are retaliating for acts of Israeli military aggression.

The Israeli air force chief, Eliezer Shkedi, said that the targeting of Dahdouh had been particularly necessary as he had been involved in Islamic Jihad's efforts to extend the range of its missiles.

Justifying the air attack, he said, "We acted only after waiting a long time for the right occasion."

The air force chose to strike at Dahdouh on a city centre street when it was busy with early evening traffic - and the Amin family was torn apart.

The Israeli Defence Ministry has ordered an inquiry.


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