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OPT - Cast Lead Aggression 1st Anniversary, Day 14: The Salha Family

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At around 3.15am on 9 January 2009, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile that penetrated the roof of the home of Fayiz and Randa Salha in Beit Lahiya. Fayiz was at work and other relatives who had fled the attacks in north Gaza were staying with them. Those present decided to flee the house, but to split up into two groups. They were afraid that Israeli warplanes would fire at them if they noticed a large group of people walking in the street. Noor Salha, then 15, left the house in the first group with two of his siblings, an aunt and an uncle. His mother, Randa, 34, his brother Diya', 13, his sisters, Rola, 1, Baha', 7, and Rana, 12, and aunt, Fatma, 22, were to follow, but as they walked down the stairs, Israeli warplanes fired a heavy missile at the house identified by a military expert as a GBU-38 500lb GPS-guided JDAM. All six of them were killed. Al Mezan interviewed Noor Salha, now 16, and his father, Fayiz, almost a year after the attack.

I wanted to go with my Mum

"I was trying to get to sleep when I heard the missile," Noor recalls, "At first, I didn't realise it was our home that had been hit. Then I saw the smoke and all the stones. We all gathered by the door and my mother told me to leave with my aunt and uncle. I refused, I wanted to go with my Mum, but she hysterically started throwing shoes at me to make me leave. She was afraid that we would be attacked if we left in one big group. We'd only got around a few hundred metres away when I heard an F16 in the sky. It was flying above my house. When the rocket hit, I ran back to my house. It was completely destroyed. There was a white light and a terrible smell, I think it was the smell of blood. I found Rana and aunt Fatma's dead bodies by the front door, Diya's dead body by the stairs and half of my mother's body. I couldn't find the rest of it. There were body parts everywhere. I started to shout for an ambulance but no-one responded. I can't describe what it was like. I was about to lose my mind. I stood crying and shouting for an hour and a half until the ambulances came to take the bodies away." Fayiz's father gently corrects his son, "It was only a few minutes before the ambulances came," he explains. "Because of the shock Noor was in, every second must have felt like an hour."

Losing Diya'

Noor was particularly close to Diya' who he believes spoke to him after he was killed. "I heard my brother Diya' speak to me when he was by the stairs. He was saying, 'aaah', and I felt he was saying good bye. When we got to the hospital, no-one could identify Baha' and Rola. They'd been torn to pieces I had to identify them by their clothes," he says. "Just hours before the attack we were kidding, laughing and playing. In a moment I lost my family, all of them are gone. Now, whenever I am free, I go to see their graves. At first, when I went to the cemetery, I used to remember how Diya' and I used to have fun, and how we played together. I used to talk to him and remind him about the times we played and joked around before he went away to the new place. This might sound silly...but once when I went to the cemetery I drew a face in the earth in the ground near my mother's grave. It was a sad face. Then, when I went during Eid a few months ago (a major holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), I drew another face. I was surprised to see it was a happy face. That made me feel happy."