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'We Don't Leave Each Other': Gazans Describe Life As Airstrikes Continue

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to hear voices from Gaza now, people living through the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It's a conflict that's been defined by the Israeli military pounding Gaza with airstrikes and by Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Officials from Gaza say more than 200 people have been killed, at least 60 of them children. Israel says at least 12 people have died in Israel, including two children.

NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been calling people in Gaza, asking what they do when the airstrikes come.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Jamal al Sharif lives in a house in Gaza with his wife and six children. He teaches English at a university. His kitchen faces Israel's army on the other side of the border, which makes it almost too dangerous to enter unless they crawl below the windows.

JAMAL AL SHARIF: Sometimes, we travel on our feet and hands over to reach the kitchen to bring water.

SHERLOCK: Are these your children I can hear behind you?

AL SHARIF: Yeah, all of us stay in one room. We don't leave each other - sitting, eating, sleeping in one room.

SHERLOCK: He says it feels too dangerous not to stay together every minute. Airstrikes hit close even as we speak.

AL SHARIF: Kind of a natural reaction from the people of...

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRSTRIKE)

SHERLOCK: Oh, my goodness.

AL SHARIF: Oh. Oh, my God.

SHERLOCK: Are you OK? Hello?

AL SHARIF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine.

SHERLOCK: That was very...

AL SHARIF: But its light was in my face.

SHERLOCK: Through the window.

AL SHARIF: Yeah.

SHERLOCK: This is the reality across the crowded Gaza Strip. Every night, families huddle together in stairwells or whichever room gives them the most protection from the airstrikes. Thousands more are losing their homes. According to the United Nations, the Israeli military has destroyed more than 600 houses and businesses. Israel says it's targeting militants that use some of the buildings and have fired thousands of rockets into Israel, many launched from civilian areas. In some cases before an airstrike, the Israelis warn Gaza residents to flee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAMMED AL SOUSI: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: Like in this video, in which Gaza resident Mohammed al Sousi (ph) talks on the phone to someone in Israel who tells him the 13-story residential building where he lives is targeted, says they give him 20 minutes to tell other residents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL SOUSI: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: Sousi pleads for more time. "What do you want me to do? There are 30 apartments in this building, not just one," he says. In a later call with NPR, Sousi tells us what happened.

AL SOUSI: (Through interpreter) I used the building's intercom to tell my parents. They told more people, who told more people.

SHERLOCK: In the meantime, he ran to an apartment of an elderly, mostly deaf neighbor, broke down her door and got her out. Sousi says he's practiced in war now. He'd already packed a bag with his family's passports, money and other valuables.

AL SOUSI: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: But he says, like the thousands of others who've lost their homes in these strikes, he had to leave all their other possessions behind. Civilians do not always escape alive from the bombardment. Sometimes, there's no warning or the airstrikes bring down buildings beyond their target. Gazan officials say on one street, more than 30 people were killed when buildings collapsed. Seventeen-year-old Nisreen Abu Alouf told NPR that she lived in a house behind those that fell.

NISREEN ABU ALOUF: (Through interpreter) Suddenly, we heard the rubble fall around us. Rubble and smoke filled up the whole house. We couldn't see anything.

SHERLOCK: She ran outside. Many of her relatives were under the rubble.

ABU ALOUF: (Speaking Arabic, crying).

SHERLOCK: Two buildings full of civilians, all of them families and children, she says. She couldn't find her siblings. She searched for them, terrified that they too were dead.

ABU ALOUF: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: She eventually found one brother and her younger sister in a hospital in Gaza and another brother at a neighbor's house. They're all reunited now, exhausted and hoping the bombardment doesn't touch them again.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.