'The beauty is gone': Israeli bombs pound Gaza’s Rimal district to rubble
Gaza City's Rimal district was long a place of relative calm and prosperity in the besieged Palestinian enclave - until Israeli bombing pounded much of it to rubble.
Locals say some 200 strikes have hit the area in nine days of conflict, replacing the downtown neighbourhood's cafes, restaurants, shops and homes with collapsed buildings, charred debris and cratered roads.
When Israel bombs nearby, "the whole house shakes like in an earthquake," said Rimal resident Abu Ahmad Al-Hassanat, 50.
Hassanat said he had moved to the area from southern Gaza, which he deemed too dangerous after his previous family home there was destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
"I thought I was safe this time," he said. "But unfortunately, my house was destroyed. This is the third time. I don't know where else to go to find safety."
The waterfront Rashid Street, with its hotels and street vendors selling falafel and ice cream, has also been targeted by the Israeli air force, hitting many businesses.
Where only weeks ago people jogged to escape the pressures of the pandemic lockdown in the blockaded territory, families are now running for their lives, out of buildings targeted for destruction in air strikes.
Israel’s deadly bombardment of the Gaza Strip began after Hamas, which runs the besieged Palestinian territory, fired rockets at Israel on May 10 in response to an Israeli police assault which injured hundreds of Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The strikes have claimed 231 lives, including 63 children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign ambassadors on Wednesday that the Rimal neighbourhood was being bombed because militants were using tunnel infrastructure underneath it.
'No one is safe'
Another resident, 50-year-old Dunia Al-Amal Ismail, said that until the latest military assault, "we thought the 2014 war was the worst, the deadliest".
That confrontation between Israel and Hamas lasted 51 days, ravaged the Gaza Strip and left at least 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, most of them civilians.
On the Israeli side, 74 people died, mostly soldiers.
The Israeli army that time mainly targeted areas of Gaza near its own territory.
But this time, "the attacks are on the heart of the city," said Ismail, who heads the Creative Women association.
"Nobody is safe."
'The beauty is gone'
Ismail said Israel had crossed "all the red lines" by launching deadly strikes on Rimal's busy Wehda thoroughfare.
"Rimal used to be the safest and calmest neighbourhood in Gaza city, but now everything is destroyed," said Ismail.
"It's the terrifying images of the neighbourhood that will remain seared in my memory," she said.
"All its beauty is gone."
Israel's military has made phone calls giving people warning that a building will be targeted, in what it claims is an effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Moein Abbas, 47, a frozen food shop owner living in the Tel Al-Hawa neighbourhood, recalled how he was sitting with his neighbours when an Israeli army officer called.
"He told me, 'We are going to bomb your neighbour's house,' so I rushed over to tell them," he said.
Then "I ran from house to house to tell everyone to evacuate, as the Israeli officer stayed on the other end of the line."
And sure enough, an Israeli missile finally hit and destroyed the neighbours' house, he said.
Abbas has lived through three Gaza wars, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
The current bombardment, he said, has been the "most difficult".