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Gazans say they pay the price of fighting between Israel and militant groups

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We now have a view from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory that is fenced in by Israel. People there recently faced three days of fighting. Israel launched what it called a preemptive strike on Islamic Jihad fighters that Israel says were planning attacks. Militants then fired more than 1,000 rockets toward Israel, which was protected by air defenses and saw no deaths. But nearly 50 people were killed in Gaza before a cease-fire was reached. NPR's Fatma Tanis reports.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: As the fighting was building, Fauziyye al-Shamallakh (ph) was at home having breakfast with her kids. Her husband was out selling fruit when he got a call. It was the Israeli military.

FAUZIYYE AL-SHAMALLAKH: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: She says they told him to drop the fruit and call his wife and tell her to immediately leave the apartment. It's the kind of call Gazans have learned over the years can come at any moment.

AL-SHAMALLAKH: (Through interpreter) By the time he reached me, we had seconds to evacuate. My hands were shaking so bad, I couldn't put my pants on.

TANIS: This is the third time an airstrike has hit near their home. Each time, it gets more damaged. This one knocked down a building nearby and left her apartment with water leaking from all sides and cracks in the walls.

AL-SHAMALLAKH: (Through interpreter) I no longer feel safe. I feel like the house will crash over our heads. And I don't know what to do. We can't afford to fix anything.

TANIS: She says years of war destroyed her emotionally.

AL-SHAMALLAKH: (Through interpreter) I just want peace, to be able to live with dignity, like everyone else.

TANIS: People here have still not recovered from the trauma of last year's war, which went on for 11 days. Some 260 people were killed then. And what little economy Gaza had was devastated. The violence this time ended quickly because Hamas, which runs Gaza, stayed out of the fighting. Israel was battling the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group. Israel acknowledged its strikes killed several civilians, but it said others were killed by rockets fired at Israel that fell short. I went to an apartment that was hit by one of those. The couple there - we're not using their names to protect them from militant reprisals - says a rocket crashed into their apartment but didn't explode. The warhead, about the size of a watermelon, blew through three walls and landed on a mattress. The woman was injured.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) I have cuts all over my neck, back and legs from the shards of metal and glass. I thought I was going to die. Even now, I have nightmares constantly. And I can't stand to be in the living room.

TANIS: Her husband thought it was a so-called roof knock. That's the Israeli tactic of firing a warning missile to send civilians fleeing before a full-on air strike. He was shocked when he was told by Gaza authorities that it was a militant rocket.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) We had to deal with the threats from all sides now. It's impossible to live like this.

(CROSSTALK)

AL-SHAMALLAKH: In a different neighborhood, 7-year-old Riyadh Gaddoum (ph) is laying in bed as his grandparents dote on him. His legs are in a cast up to his waist. The family says he and his 5-year-old sister, Alaa (ph), were walking to their aunt's house when what appears to be an Israeli strike hit near them. Gaddoum was thrown in the air and broke both legs in his hip. His sister died. She was one of the first casualties of the conflict. The grandfather, also named Riyadh Gaddoum, pointed a shaking finger out the window to the street where it happened.

RIYADH GADDOUM: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHAMALLAKH: He says, the man the Israelis wanted was far away and asks what his granddaughter's crime was and why they killed her. Israel says it takes care not to kill civilians by sending warnings, watching by overhead video for when civilians are near. But Gaza is crowded. And Palestinians say Israel isn't being careful enough. One of Israel's first militant targets, Tayseer al-Jabari, was killed in an apartment in a 14-story building. Khalil Kanoon (ph) is a child protection worker who lived there, too.

KHALIL KANOON: (Through interpreter) They sent eight rockets from multiple sides to kill one man. There are hundreds of children here.

TANIS: He eventually got his family out safely but was injured himself. He doesn't understand why the Israelis didn't do what the United States says it did when it killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul a couple of weeks ago without any civilian deaths.

KANOON: (Through interpreter) Israel has the best technology in the world. Why are we still dying?

TANIS: "We know they're going to keep fighting," he says, meaning Israel and militant groups. "But how much longer are we going to pay the price?"

Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Gaza City.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD LAWSON'S "THE FAIREST THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.