• APRIL 20, 2024
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  • 'Who will call me Dad?' Tears of Gaza father who lost 103 relatives

'Who will call me Dad?' Tears of Gaza father who lost 103 relatives

  • Asia
  • Staff Correspondent
  • Published: 27 Feb 2024, 03:08 AM

Ahmad al-Ghuferi missed the bomb that obliterated his family.  

When 103 relatives were killed in a strike on their family home in Gaza City, he was stuck 50 miles (80km) away, in the occupied West Bank town of Jericho.

Ahmad had been working on a Tel Aviv construction site when Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October - unable to return to his wife and three young daughters because of the war that followed, and Israel's military blockade. 

He spoke to them at the same time every day, when the phone connections allowed, and was on the phone to his wife, Shireen, as the attack happened on the evening of 8 December.

"She knew she would die," he said. "She told me to forgive her for anything bad she might ever have done to me. I told her there was no need to say that. And that was the last call between us."

A large bomb attack on his uncle's house that evening killed his wife and his three young daughters - Tala, Lana and Najla. 

It also killed Ahmad's mother, four of his brothers and their families, as well as dozens of his aunts, uncles and cousins. More than 100 dead in all. Over two months on, some of their bodies are still trapped under the rubble.

Last week, he marked his youngest daughter's birthday. Najla would have turned two. Ahmad is still trying to grasp the loss.

Unable to hold his children's bodies or be at their hurried burials, he still speaks of them in the present tense, his face motionless beneath the rolling tears.

"My daughters are little birds to me," he said. "I feel like I'm in a dream. I still can't believe what's happened to us."

He has removed pictures of the girls from his phone and laptop screens, so as not to be ambushed by them.

He has been left to piece together the story of what happened from the accounts of a few surviving relatives and neighbours.

They told him that a missile had first struck the entrance to his family's house. 

"They hurried out and went to my uncle's house nearby," he said. "Fifteen minutes later, a fighter jet hit that house."

The four-storey building where the family was killed sat around the corner from the Sahaba Medical Centre in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighbourhood.

It is now a mound of splintered concrete, the rubble shot through with bright dots of colour: a green plastic cup, shreds of dusty clothing.

The crumpled frame of a silver car, its windscreen twisted into a grimace, sits nearby under overhanging concrete rocks.

One of Ahmad's surviving relatives, Hamid al-Ghuferi, told the BBC that when the strikes began, those who ran away up the hill survived, and those who sheltered in the house were killed. 

"It was a fire-belt," he said. "There were strikes on the four houses next to ours. They were hitting a house every 10 minutes."

"110 people from the Ghuferi family were there - our children and relatives," he said. "All but a handful of them were killed."

Survivors say the eldest victim was a 98-year-old grandmother; the youngest a baby boy born just nine days earlier.

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