San Diego native mourns loss of 22 family members in Gaza

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego native is mourning the loss of 22 members of his family, who he says were killed in an air strike during the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

“I can’t really begin to describe how it feels to have lost 22 members of our extended family,” Husam El-Qoulaq said.

On Thursday, Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire, halting a bruising 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip, brought life in much of Israel to a standstill and left more than 200 people dead, the Associated Press reported.

Like the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the Islamic militant group’s nonstop rocket barrages. Almost immediately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his hard-line, right-wing base that he stopped the operation too soon.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, also claimed victory. But it now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from poverty, widespread unemployment and a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Those killed in El-Qoulaq’s family spanned generations, from his grandfather’s cousin, a 90-year-old named Amin, to a 6-month-old named Qusai. There were plenty of ages in between as well, he said.

“Abboud was only 22 years old,” he said. “Taher was 23 and had just graduated in engineering.”

El-Qoulaq’s father, born on the same street where a bombing occurred, emigrated to San Diego in the 1980s. He says along with extended family were numerous others in the same area, including doctors and the head of internal medicine who was leading the coronavirus response in Gaza.

Since the fighting began, Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated.

Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.

Israeli attacks have also damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.

Israeli bombing has damaged over 50 schools across the territory, according to advocacy group Save the Children, destroying at least six. While repairs are done, education will be disrupted for nearly 42,000 children.

Although Israel and Hamas agreed to cease-fire Thursday, El-Qoulaq says the loss is incalculable.

“Of course, the cease-fire is welcome, but the cease-fire will not bring back my family,” he said. “It will not restore the civilian infrastructure that was destroyed over the last 10 days.”

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