KHAN YOUNIS: Fearful of Israeli air strikes on buildings, Rami Awad spent days looking for tents so that he could move his family to the relative safety of an outdoor camp in Rafah, southern Gaza, but he could not find any, according to his brother Mohammed Awad.

In the early hours of Saturday, Rami, his wife and two of their sons were killed, along with other relatives, when a strike hit the apartment where they were staying in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

A third son, 11-year-old Mahmoud Awad, survived because he spent the night in another apartment. By morning, he was at the morgue of the European Hospital, where his parents and brothers lay on metal shelves, wrapped in shrouds.

“My mother told me ‘go and sleep at your uncle Issa’s house tonight’. So I went to my uncle Issa’s house, and they bombed the house (where his family were staying),” said Mahmoud, surrounded by other children who listened in silence.

“They were all martyred, my brothers and my father, Rami Awad, and my youngest brother, who was in second grade, and my eldest brother Muath, who was in eighth grade,” he said, speaking calmly but taking rapid breaths, as if trying to stifle sobs.

Other members of the extended family were also at the morgue, including a young girl who had facial injuries, and several older women who surrounded her and hugged her. All of them were weeping.

Inside the mortuary, a woman knelt next to the corpse of a young man whose face had been uncovered, crying as she placed her hand on his cheek.

Among the bodies was that of a young child.

Before the war, the Awad family lived in al-Shati, one of the refugee camps that are home to Palestinians who were displaced when the State of Israel was created in 1948, and their descendants.

Al-Shati is part of Gaza City.

“We were in Shati refugee camp and they (the Israeli army) dropped fliers saying that Gaza City is a battlefield, so we fled to Khan Younis because it was a safe place, and they still bombed us,” said Mahmoud.

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The family had been staying with relatives on his mother’s side, who lived in three apartments in the city of Khan Younis.

Mahmoud’s paternal uncle, Rami’s brother Mohammed, was among the mourners outside the morgue.

“They had a chance to survive, but they were bombed while at home… My only brother. He had been going around for the past five days to try to get a tent, there are no tents left, he wanted to go to West Rafah, and this is his fate,” he said.

The boom of explosions could be heard as he spoke.

“I can’t talk. I can’t,” said Mohammed, breaking down in tears.

The war was triggered by militants from the Hamas group, which has run Gaza since 2007, who rampaged across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, raping and mutilating some women, and taking 240 hostages, Israeli authorities have said.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with a military assault on the densely populated coastal strip which has killed more than 22,700 people and injured more than 58,100 others, according to the Gaza health ministry.

It has also displaced most of Gaza’s population and caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

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