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‘We may die in any moment’

She was a girl with cuts on her face, lying in a hospital bed near her mother.

Hours earlier, before dawn in the Gaza Strip town of Khoza, the Israeli soldiers came and the firefights and shelling rattled and shook the darkness. Everyone without a gun scattered. Ambulances moved out to collect the wounded.

Fourteen-year-old Alaa Khalid ran with her mother and brother to hide. There was a boom and she remembered nothing until she woke up in a bed at the Nasser Hospital. The doctors bandaged her face; but something else, something inside her, was wrong.

The battle between Israeli forces and Hamas militants burned hard in Khoza. Alaa was not the only one who needed aid. There were splintered houses, other victims, those not swift enough.

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Some distance from Alaa’s hospital window, a woman lay dying in the street. As nurses tended to Alaa, an ambulance driver, Marwan abu Reida, rushed to save the woman. He was shot at, he said later, as he sped over the streets.

He abandoned his ambulance and sought cover in a house.

“I am now stuck with about 50 people in the house, and we can hear the sound of shooting and shelling,” Abu Reida said by phone. “We called the Red Cross to intervene immediately and get us out. It is so scary. Bullets are hitting the house and it is shaking after each missile that is fired from the planes. We may die in any moment.”

The Israeli military has said it does not target civilians or medical workers; the U.N. has reported that 13 medical personnel have been killed since the incursion into Gaza on Dec. 27.

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As Abu Reida spoke into a borrowed phone, Alaa lay not too far away in her hospital bed. Her mother was in the bed beside her, and her 12-year-old brother was in a room down the hall. Alaa began to cry. Did her father die? she asked. Where was her father? He had been in another room in the family’s house and had survived, she was told. The news helped her stop crying.

She remembered now. Her family lived on the third floor of the house. When the fighting began, they thought it would be safer on the ground floor, where her grandfather lived. His name was Khalil Hamdan Annajar.

“We were hearing the sounds of bullets and shells. I was shaking, sometimes crying and repeating Koran,” Alaa said. “Suddenly, at 7 o’clock, there was a huge explosion and I did not know what happened until I found myself in the hospital.”

Her grandfather was killed. No one told her right away. They waited two hours.

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“Why did they kill him?” she said, starting to cry again. “Why are they killing us and nobody moves? If we were cats in Europe and America they would have cared for us.”

The wounds on Alaa’s face were treated, but whatever else was wrong was not detected; doctors hurried to care for dozens of others who were carried bleeding through the halls. Alaa died in her bed.

After sunset, when the fighting calmed, Abu Reida left the house. He went to the street he had been headed to hours earlier. He saw the body of a woman named Ruheia. She had been shot in the head.

He drove home.

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Ahmad is a special correspondent.


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