Khalil al-Dallu screams. “They said Mohammed was alive!” he shouts as emergency workers pull the body of a young man from a Gaza City home levelled by an Israeli strike on Sunday.
His face quickly crumples into tears as the emergency staff tell him that his cousin is in fact dead — one more member of the Dallu family killed when an Israeli missile struck the Nasser neighbourhood, flattening the three-story building where they lived.
“The whole family is martyred!” he cries, as the body of 35-year-old Mohammed al-Dallu is placed in an ambulance.
“What was the sin of the children and the infants, Israel?” he screams, raising his hands to the sky.
The emergency workers carry on with their grim task. By the time their work is done they have pulled 11 bodies from the pancaked building and others around it.
The body of Mohammed’s wife is also retrieved, as well as those of five of their children. The body of another woman, also a family member, is also pulled out although she is not immediately identified.
The strike has also killed two of their neighbours from the Muzzana family.
Mohammed’s father, Jamal, and his 17-year-old son Abdullah, are among the survivors. When the Israeli strike happened, they were out buying food to boost the family’s stocks because they feared an Israeli ground invasion.
Jamal leans on a bloody electricity pole for support, overwhelmed at the horror and loss in front of him, his relatives crowding around as pieces of his grandchildren are plucked from their former home.
Near hysterical with anger and sorrow, Ibrahim shouts: “Don’t tell his brother Abdullah, the trauma will kill him!”
The brother, 26-year-old Abdullah, is currently studying in Turkey to become a doctor.
Two of the bodies are retrieved as night falls, after two diggers squeeze into the narrow alley leading to the site and remove the roof of one of the houses flattened in the strike.
“I don’t even know how they can get all the bodies out without specialised rescue equipment,” says Majdi Abdul Mejid, a neighbour, shaking his head.
Ahmed Hato, 13, is still dazed by the sudden death visited on the family.
“I was playing with the sons of the neighbours at the entrance to the street. There was a huge explosion, the earth shook and dust and rocks went everywhere. I don’t know how, but I ended up on the ground and without injuries,” he says.
Ahmed’s father can’t watch the rescue efforts, and doesn’t answer his phone. Instead he cries openly for Mohammed, whom he he saw just an hour before the strike.
Mohammed, a Hamas police officer, “was a good man, moral and kind to everyone,” he says. “Everyone loved him. His death is a huge loss for the family.”
On the ground are remnants of the lives the Dallu children once lead. Children’s clothes and a mangled bicycle. Blood and dust is everywhere.
There is panic in the air, and a rumour quickly spreads that Israeli forces have announced they will target the area again.
“The Jews told our neighbours that they will shell their house,” says a 50-year-old woman called Umm al-Abed Shinawi, frantically scrambling to fix her headscarf as she leaves.
Nearby, 32-year-old Jamila drags her four children, all crying, towards an ambulance and begs the drivers to take them to Shati refugee camp by the sea.
But the panic seems unfounded, just a rumour, and eventually most of those who left trickle back as the rescue workers wrap up their mission, placing the bodies into emergency vehicles for transport to the Shifa hospital morgue, the blood on their clothes not yet dry.