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Dad Relives Israeli Strike in Gaza That Wiped Out His Family

When the war began, Hassan Al Hallaq did what any sensible parent would do, he moved his family to what he thought was the safest part of the city.
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hassan Al Hallaq did what any sensible parent would do: When the latest bout of violence erupted here, he moved his family — heavily pregnant wife, Samar, and two young sons — away from their apartment on the outskirts of town and into the middle of Gaza City.

Away from the border, away from the tunnels, the rockets and the front line, All Hallaq thought his wife and sons Kenan, 6, and four-year-old Saji would be safe.

The IT manager at a Palestinian bank had lived with his family through two previous wars and knew his neighborhood in East Gaza would be targeted by the Israelis because it is close to the border.

So he did what the Israelis always told Gaza residents to do: He packed his belongings and moved his entire family along with his parents to his sister’s apartment deep into the city.

That apartment complex was made up of several buildings, dozens of apartments, hundreds of residents and visitors — it’s in a middle-class neighborhood.

"We thought that it was the safest place in Gaza City because it is the center of the city also the Israelis through to their warnings to all dangerous areas, they say, we advise that you move to the center of the city," Al Hallaq told NBC News from his bedside, still recuperating from the devastating blast.

Image: Hassan Al Hallaq's sons Kenan and Saji
Hassan Al Hallaq's sons Kenan, 6, and Saji, 4, were both killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza City.Courtesy Hassan Al Hallaq

On Sunday, as his family was preparing to break the daily Ramadan fast at about 7 p.m., two Israeli missiles slammed into the building where they were staying along with his parents.

"All of a sudden we hear a huge explosion happened in the house. I found myself thrown on the floor, everybody screaming around... I was sitting in the outer room with my father and my two brothers ... the rest of the family are in the back of the house — all of them have passed away. Only we who were sitting in the outside room survived."

Al Hallaq and his two brothers and father survived. His 29-year-old wife, his mother, his sister and the three children who were in the back part of the home were killed. His wife was due to give birth within days to their third boy. They were married for seven years, but it was all gone in a matter of seconds.

The IT manager, who studied abroad as part of an educational opportunity with Oxford Brookes University, never wanted to leave Gaza.

Despite all of the challenges, he wanted to raise his children in Gaza close to his family.

"I did my best to raise my children, to prepare them ... to let them live a peaceful life, and all of a sudden I lost everything, I lost the memories, I lost the plans, I don't know ... I lost everything, I don't have any thoughts of what's coming."

It's civilians like Al Hallaq who are paying the price of the fight. Israel carries out punitive airstrikes against Hamas militants with deadly consequences for the very same residents it evacuated from other neighborhoods. More than 70 percent of those killed have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

Nowhere is safe.

Image: Hassan Al Hallaq's wife Samar
Hassan Al Hallaq's wife Samar, 29, was due to give birth within days.Courtesy Hassan Al Hallaq

This type of civilian devastation has led the UN Human Rights chief to say that Israel may be committing war crimes. But High Commissioner Navi Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.

The international condemnations mean little to families in Gaza who feel the international community has abandoned them.

They are even more meaningless to survivors like Al Hallaq, who know they will never have their families back in their arms despite everything they did to protect them.