“This is a massacre,’’ shouted Nasser Dalu, a cousin and neighbor as he watched in anguish as his relatives were pulled from debris. “What did these children do?”
Two male next-door-neighbors were also killed, bringing the total death count to 12, with more than 20 people wounded.
The 2:30 p.m. attack took place in the Naser district, a crowded residential neighborhood of Gaza City.
Israel Defense Forces, which on Wednesday launched an air assault to stop rockets from being fired by Gaza militants into southern Israel, did not immediately comment on the strike.
From the twisted pile of cement and glass, there was little chance of finding survivors. The force of the blast blew out windows blocks away and sent a charred mattress flying into the street.
For hours after the strike, rescue workers and neighbors nonetheless clung to hope of finding someone alive. Frantic volunteers in orange vests scrambled over the wreckage while a bulldozer pulled apart collapsed walls of cement.
Three women and one man were the first to be found at the house, which neighbors said was owned by Jamal Dalu, who was not home at the time of the attack. The dead included his wife Tahani, 45; a son, Mohamed; a sister, Suhaila, 65; and Mohamed’s wife, Samah.
Then in a grim, heartbreaking ritual that repeated again and again, they began to find the children one after the other.
Suddenly the men would scream and wave their hands at the driver to stop, while others climbed down to retrieve the lifeless body. Then as mobs of onlookers chanted “God is great,” a rescue worker would race through the parting sea of people with a bloodied, dust-covered child, arms and legs flapping as he ran toward waiting ambulances.
First the older son, then a baby girl, another girl and a boy, all children of Mohamed Dula.
Until Sunday, Israel had been praising its operation’s surgical airstrikes, which officials said had successfully limited civilian casualties.
But the Dalu house strike was likely to become one of the defining moments of the conflict. The attack brought the death toll to 66 people since Wednesday, including at least 24 civilians. Three Israelis were killed last week when a rocket fired from Gaza hit an apartment building in southern Israel.
On its website, the military wing of Hamas said the attack on the family “will not go unpunished” and that the group had begun firing rockets at Israel in response.