JERUSALEM — The call came to the cellphone of his brother's wife, Salah Kaware said Tuesday. Kaware lives in Khan Younis, in southeast Gaza, and the caller said everyone in the house must leave within five minutes, because it was going to be bombed.
A further warning came as the occupants were leaving, he said in a telephone interview, when an Israeli drone apparently fired a flare at the roof of the three-story home. "Our neighbors came in to form a human shield," he said, with some even going to the roof to try to prevent a bombing. Others were in the stairway when the house was bombed not long afterward.
Seven people died, Kaware said, a figure also stated by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, which also said that 25 people were wounded. The Israeli military said that targeted houses belonged to Hamas members involved in launching rockets or other military activity, and that they had been used as operations rooms.
The events were another example of a contentious Israeli policy in which occupants of a building about to be attacked are given a brief warning in Arabic to evacuate. The Israelis have used calls and leaflets for years in a stated effort to reduce civilian casualties and avoid charges of indiscriminate killings or crimes against the rules of war.
During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008, the Israelis often used telephone calls and leaflets to tell occupants to leave before the strikes. In some cases, the Israelis fired missiles without explosive warheads onto the roof to get Palestinians who had gathered there to leave. The Israelis called it "the knock on the roof." But often, as in Khan Younis on Tuesday, people die in any case, because they ignore or defy the warnings, or try to leave after it's too late.
And sometimes bombs and missiles do not always hit the building at which they're aimed.
The Israelis also regularly drop leaflets over Gaza urging residents not to cooperate with terrorism and to stay away from border zones, an injunction that has been criticized by human-rights advocates, like the Palestinian al-Haq organization.
Israel does not always give warnings. A missile hit a car traveling along a central Gaza thoroughfare Tuesday, killing the three occupants.