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He told his terrified daughters not to be scared. Then an airstrike killed him

·4-min read
Ahmed al -Mansi with one of his daughters (Al-Mansi family)
Ahmed al -Mansi with one of his daughters (Al-Mansi family)

Don’t be afraid, keep playing, it’s almost done, the Palestinian father repeats to his two girls as they scramble for cover when the Israeli war planes roar overhead.

“Daddy,” they scream, hiding their heads under cushions.

Just a few minutes before the strike, Ahmed al-Mansi, 35, films his two daughters, aged six and 12, playing with a magnetic fishing toy he had just bought them for Eid to distract them during Israel’s ferocious bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

The video was posted last Wednesday on the family YouTube channel called “Sarah and Hala stars”, which over the last four months has documented the life of the girls in Gaza, including more recently the heavy airstrikes.

The channel has garnered tens of thousands of views and elevated the family to a kind of celebrity status in the Strip, with many people saying it brought them comfort.

But this video, where Ahmed films himself buying toys for the children, would be his last.

Three days later he was killed in an Israeli strike.

“I wish you happy Eid,” al-Mansi says with a smile. “We will not be able to follow the usual traditions of Eid since … it is very dangerous to drive the car in the streets.

“Hala is feeling upset. I want to do something that makes her happy. I’ll buy her something that makes her happy.”

Despite efforts to comfort his daughters and reassure them they are safe, Ahmed was killed in a ferocious slew of air raids over his town in the north of the Strip at the weekend.

Videos taken by his surviving family members of that night are harrowing.

The barrage is relentless: there are at least 10 strikes in just 15 seconds.

In the dark, the children can be heard screaming and vomiting.

Israel said that night they were targeting the underground networks of tunnels that militants use in the fighting.

Ahmed is among the 213 killed, most by Israeli fire in Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry. Some 61 children and 36 women are among that number.

In Israel the death toll rose to 12 on Tuesday, after two Thai workers were killed in a massive rocket attack on Eshkol, according to police.

Despite intense international efforts to broker a ceasefire, with a US envoy present and Egyptian mediators shuttling between the two sides, the fighting has continued.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said after a meeting with his military officials on Monday: “We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”

Militants in Gaza – who have fired an unprecedented 3,200 rockets at Israel – have also vowed to keep going and threatened once again to bombard Tel Aviv.

Caught in the crossfire are the civilians who pay the ultimate price.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that 52,000 people have been displaced in Gaza and more than 2,500 made homeless as homes and tower blocks have been hit.

The death toll, meanwhile, continues to rise.

Ahmed’s older brother Hamed, 36, a well-known photographer in Gaza, told The Independent that the day before Ahmed was killed, he threw a birthday party for Hala, his six-year-old daughter.

“He was trying to do everything to make them feel happy, to distract them from the nightmare,” Hamed said.

On the day of the fatal air raids, Ahmed moved his own family; then, with his other brother, Youssef, he came to help Hamed move his children further way from the worst of the bombing.

Videos of that bombardment that were taken by Hamed’s wife, Haneen, and shared with The Independent showed relentless, intense fire.

Ahmed al-MansiAl-Mansi family
Ahmed al-MansiAl-Mansi family

The terrified parents can be heard repeating the shahada, an Islamic profession of faith, while the children are screaming and crying.

Haneen, 29, said she started filming to mark the moment she thought her entire family would be killed, as a testimony of what happened to them.

“We were showered in shrapnel. I was so afraid. I was waiting for death any moment,” she said.

Hamed said he was eventually able to move his wife and children and returned back home to find his brothers, who were waiting in the street.

“I was 10 metres away from them when the Israeli missile hit them,” he said with a shake in his voice.

“My brothers were not carrying rockets or stones. They came only to make sure I was OK. I was screaming and crying for help for the ambulance, that’s why I have no voice now.

“Why would they do this?”