GAZA CITY — Every time six-year-old Mohammed hears the sound of Israeli missiles landing near his home in Gaza City, he turns to his mother and asks: “When are we going to die?”
Traumatised by the bombardment, and terrified for their children, his family has decided to leave Gaza City, which has borne the brunt of relentless Israeli air strikes for six straight days.
So they upped and moved to Khan Younis in southern Gaza, which has been less affected by the violence.
But they know that nowhere in Gaza is safe. No corner of this tiny coastal strip has been left untouched. Every major urban centre in the territory of some 1.6 million residents has been bombarded.
There are no bomb shelters for residents, leaving each family to cling to the safest place in their home when the warplanes arrive
Mohammed’s family hope Khan Younis might prove slightly safer, and are staying there with his mother’s relatives.
“My children are terrified,” says his mother Umm Jihad, 37.
“My son Mohammed refuses to eat. He follows me everywhere because he’s so scared and asks me every 10 minutes when we’re going to die.
“He says he won’t go back to school because he’s scared he’ll be martyred or that he’ll come back from school and find that I or his brothers have been killed,” she says.
Their home is on the ninth floor of an apartment building in the western sector of Gaza City.
“The strikes would shake the whole building, and eventually they blew out the windows and knocked down the door. That was when we decided to go Khan Younis,” says Umm Jihad, speaking to AFP on the phone.
Khan Younis has also been hit in the conflict, but less so than Gaza City and the family feels better protected.
“The fear and anxiety have followed me here though,” she says. “I don’t know what to say to my children and how they will overcome this fear when the war is over.”
Walid Sultan, 30, fled his home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya along with his pregnant wife, their daughter and dozens of their neighbours after their district, which is close to the border with Israel, came under heavy fire.
He came to Gaza City to take refuge with a friend in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, but has found no peace there either.
“We fled death, but it is waiting for us at every corner,” he says.
“I left my home in Salateen because I was scared the Israelis would launch a ground invasion. Last time they did that, their tanks came to our area and destroyed my home.
“The situation is terrible here, too. I feel helpless because I can’t protect my family,” he adds.
“I feel the fear of my daughter, who has panic attacks and screams at the sound of the shelling. My wife is in the final months of her pregnancy, but where can we go?”
Suhaila Nouri, 43, decided to leave after an awful night when she was convinced she would die.
“It was a terrible night. The explosions were so loud it sounded like they were inside my house,” she says. “I just sat there and waited to die.”
In the morning she discovered shrapnel and debris all over the garden of her Beit Lahiya home and decided to move to Gaza City, to stay with her brother.
The city is under attack constantly from the air, but as a resident of the border area, Nouri decided it would be safer to move in case Israel launches a ground invasion.
Maysa Shanti, 40, left her home in northwestern Gaza City with her family, and moved into her relatives’ house in the city’s upscale Rimal neighbourhood.
“There was heavy Israeli bombing of a resistance training site behind my apartment. It shattered the windows of my house and I decided to leave for somewhere safer because I was afraid for my family and the kids were panicking,” she says.
The days and nights of bombing have left the family bleary-eyed and exhausted, desperate for a chance to sleep.
“But we can’t sleep here either,” Shanti says.
“The sound of explosions is continuous here as well. All we can do is try to comfort each other.”