Israeli strike kills four children on a Gaza beach

DISPATCH

GAZA CITY — It is not unusual for militants to launch rockets from sites near my hotel. Israeli missiles and shells have also landed pretty close to al-Deira, an old red stucco inn with a large terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Just a few hundred yards down the beach is the fishing harbor.

I had just returned to the hotel to type up some notes and file inserts on the day’s news when there was a large explosion on the quay at the port, a little after 4 o' clock in the afternoon. 

We could smell the charge. I wondered: Did Hamas just fire a rocket? But it was the sound of an incoming round. We saw a small fisherman’s shack on the quay, churning with gray smoke.

Then we saw a gang of kids running from the shack, down the breakwater and onto the sand, hurtling toward al-Deira. A couple of waiters, the cook and a few journalists started waving at them. Run here! Then a second strike landed right behind them.

The staff were yelling, “They’re hurt!”

A half-dozen kids made it to the hotel. A young man also reached safety and fainted. He was bleeding from the abdomen. He was scooped up and carried to a taxi by a big, friendly bear of a bellman, room cleaner and night watchman named Mahmoud Abu Zbaidah.


Hamada Baker, 13, rests on the terrace of a hotel, after he was hit in the chest by shrapnel from an Israeli missile fired at a port in Gaza. (Islam Abdel Karim for The Washington Post)

Two young terrified kids were bleeding and injured, and they were quickly bandaged on the floor of the terrace, where guests usually eat skewers of grilled chicken, suck on water pipes and watch the sun go down. The kids suffered from shrapnel wounds, one to the head, one to the chest. They were treated by translators, hotel staff and journalists, who ran up to their rooms to grab medical kits.

On the quay, ambulances took away four more. They either died on the pier or at the hospital, I am not sure. The Gaza Health Ministry tweeted their names a few minutes later: Mohammed Bakr, 9; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11.

All cousins, we are told, scrawny fishermen’s kids whom we saw every day, running around on the beach, playing in the waves.

Later, the Israel Defense Forces issued a statement calling the civilian casualties "a tragic outcome," saying the target of the strike was "Hamas terrorist operatives." They promised that the incident would be investigated but blamed Hamas for its "cynical exploitation of a population held hostage."

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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