Page last updated at 21:43 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

Survivors count losses in Rafah

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rafah

An explosion is seen where the Israeli military is bombing an area around alleged smuggling tunnels in Rafah p on 14 January
The Israelis bombed the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt

Hani Bakear has probably endured the longest war of anyone in Gaza.

His house is directly opposite the Egyptian border overlooking the tunnels.

For three weeks the land beneath his house has been bombed repeatedly.

And yet Mr Bakear has refused to leave. With his 10 children he has sat it out within his crumbling apartment block, as shrapnel rained down around him, some of it coming through the wall.

"I have nowhere else to go," said Mr Bakear.

"Why should I leave my home. The Israelis have tried everything to force us out. But the will of the Palestinian people is unshakeable."

The Israelis estimate there were 300 tunnels running beneath the wall. They have thrown everything at them.

Today the landscape is pitted and scarred. The explosions were thunderous - goodness knows what it must have been like sitting through it in Mr Bakear's tiny apartment.

Touched by war

But with this latest ceasefire, the town of Rafah is now counting its losses.

Every family has been touched by this war.

They don't see us as human beings. I have lost school friends. Every family here has lost someone
Mohammed, 17

At the morgue they were still queuing on Saturday for the bodies. In the corner of the room a small boy wept - a son without a father.

And there are plenty of fathers without sons.

Ziad Al Absi lost three of his boys. A rocket attack on his house destroyed his bedroom, where his children were sleeping around him.

But neighbours say Mr Absi is nothing to do with Hamas.

"I only support Palestinians who kills Israelis," said Mr Absi. "Because the Israelis believe all our children are terrorists."

Deeper hatred

And therein lies the dangerous legacy of this war. The hatred runs deeper than ever, with the next generation of Palestinians already vowing revenge.

Palestinian medics wheel a man wounded in an Israeli missile strike into hospital in Rafah
Every family has been touched by this war

Mohammed, 17, lives in the house in which we are sheltering. He is well educated despite all the difficulties and he speaks immaculate English.

He might ordinarily be classed as a moderate. In fact he is on most topics - but not when it comes to Israel.

"They kill indiscriminately," he said. "They don't care what they hit.

"They don't see us as human beings. I have lost school friends. Every family here has lost someone.

"We have lived in fear for three weeks. And why? Because we refuse to be imprisoned behind these walls, without food, medicine, our basic human rights?"

Exhausted welcome

But everyone in this house welcomes the ceasefire, pleased to have some respite from the bombing. There are plenty of exhausted faces.

There is no way you can sleep through the scream of an F-16 - no matter how inured you are to it.

There are however some real concerns about where Gaza goes now.

Man walks down a destroyed street in the Salahaddin street area of Rafah
After weeks of bombing, people are unclear what the future will bring

Hamas is still in control. In Rafah their flags still fly in the streets. Their fighters are hailed as heroes. For Hamas survival is considered a victory.

No-one knows yet what damage has been inflicted on the organisation and whether it's power and control has diminished.

"We wonder who is going to govern," said Abu Moustafa, the owner of a hardware store.

"The divisions between Fatah and Hamas run deep as ever. There is a danger that in the months ahead there will be a political vacuum in Gaza. That is a dangerous scenario, it could spell more misery for people here."

'Lifeline' tunnels

And Abu Moustafa does not trust the Israelis to provide for people in Gaza.

"We depended on the tunnels for all our supplies," he said.

"They were our lifeline. Now we are totally cut off from the outside world. The Israelis promise to open the crossings - but they have made those promises before."

So for the moment, while the rockets may have stopped, many of the same uncertainties remain.

There is only temporary relief here. The longer-term future of the Gaza people is as precarious as ever.

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