KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — When Omar Khodari and his family heeded the Israeli military’s warning last week advising them to head from the northern Gaza Strip to the south, they thought they were fleeing to a safer place.
They figured they would wait out the airstrikes in the southern town of Khan Younis and go back home when calm returned to Gaza City, Khodari’s relatives said.
But the explosions followed them like a slow-moving thunderstorm. Khodari watched as dozens of Palestinians like him who followed Israel’s warning and abandoned their homes in search of safety were killed by Israeli airstrikes raining down on residential buildings and United Nations shelters outside the evacuation zone.
On Wednesday, Khodari, his wife, four teenage daughters and two sons decided they’d had enough. Khodari, a 47-year-old civil engineer who spent the last 15 years in Dubai, couldn’t stand that he was suffering under bombardment at his friend’s crowded Khan Younis apartment when he could be in his own home — an airy country villa that he spent the past months designing and decorating.
The eight Khodaris returned to Gaza City on Wednesday, relatives said. Hours later there was an airstrike. No one was warned, survivors said. The blast instantly killed Khodari and two of his children, 15-year-old Kareem and 16-year-old Hala.
“The pain is too great,” said Khodari’s brother, Ehab, his voice trembling over the phone. “I will not be able to speak of this for many days.”
Khodari’s stucco villa, in the well-off Rimal neighborhood, was reduced to ruins. The neighbors pried his wife and other children from the rubble. The explosion had flung them through the window, neighbors said. They remain in intensive care.
There was one factor that determined who lived and who died, said Khodari’s cousin, Sami Khodari. When they heard explosions nearby, the family ran in opposite directions in the house to seek shelter. Khodari grabbed two of his children and went right. The strike hit that side of the house.
“Everywhere you go in Gaza these days you’re a walking target,” Sami Khodari said. “Your fate is only in God’s hands.”
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Over the course of the Israeli bombardment, following an unprecedented Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7, the military has said its airstrikes are aimed at Hamas militants or infrastructure and do not target civilians.
The Khodaris weren’t the only victims. The bomb that hit their home was part of a heavy rain of Israeli airstrikes late Wednesday that killed dozens of Palestinians, including 28 people in the Sakallah household, Khodari’s neighbors.
When asked about particular people killed in specific airstrikes, few in Gaza can bear to answer, with the sorrow of individual families lost in the face of an entire population brought to grief.
“It’s not about this family killed or that family killed,” said Noor Swirki in Khan Younis, where an Israeli airstrike killed 10 members of the Bakri family, among them seven infants, earlier this week.
Harrowing images of the babies’ bodies captured the Arab world’s attention, drawing outrage online.
“Hundreds and hundreds of children like that have been killed since this war started,” Swirki said of the Bakris. “It’s not about them. It’s about all of Gaza that will never be the same.”