Thousands dead in Israeli bombing of Gaza. Here’s one woman’s story.

The morning of Oct. 22 was punctuated by loud explosions in the neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa in Gaza City. Shrouq Aila picked up her 11-month-old daughter and moved to the ground floor of her in-laws’ home, holding the hand of her husband, Roshdi Sarraj.

Minutes later, everything turned to dust.

“I wiped my hand to check if he’s still beside me,” she told The Washington Post through a voice note. “Then I felt something on my legs. It was Roshdi.”

His head had a gash so deep that she could see brain matter, Aila said, choking on tears.

Thousands of families across the Gaza Strip have lost relatives and friends in Israeli bombardment following Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people.

Israel declared a “full siege,” blocking food, water, fuel and electricity on the 25-mile-long, densely populated enclave and has expanded its air and ground assault in recent days, vowing to eliminate Hamas, which the United States has designated as a terrorist group.

The mounting death toll of Palestinians in Gaza has caught global attention. “Even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters,” former president Barack Obama wrote recently. “Already, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the bombing of Gaza, many of them children.”

Family of Al Jazeera Gaza bureau chief killed in airstrike

For Aila, 29, the minutes after were agonizing. The family tried to call an ambulance, but emergency workers refused to come, she said, citing the ongoing bombardment.

She felt she was going mad. “I was screaming in the street: ‘Ambulance, ambulance. Help us, help us,’” she said. Ultimately, Sarraj’s siblings and neighbors carried him to the nearby al-Quds Hospital on foot. But the 31-year-old journalist and filmmaker didn’t survive.

The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment without being given exact coordinates of the incident.

“I cannot sleep since then. Each time I close my eyes, I see him with the injury,” Aila said. Even as she spoke, explosions rang out behind her. She spoke to The Post through voice notes and WhatsApp messages last week. Gaza experienced a near-total communications blackout over the weekend before connections were partially restored early Sunday.

The couple had moved to her in-laws’ two-story home, a few minutes from their own in Gaza City, when the war broke out. Sarraj’s father, she said, is an engineering professor and the mayor of Gaza.

Aila and Sarraj got married in 2021 and were “soul mates,” she said. Sarraj ran a media production company called Ain Media in Gaza. She would tease him that their minds were connected when they said similar things at the same time, she recalled.

Last year, they had a daughter, Dania. For weeks before the war, Aila had been planning a big birthday celebration for Dania on her first birthday on Nov. 6. It was important for her, she said, to make memories with her daughter since she had few with her own family. Aila lost her mother to breast cancer when she was very young, and her father died of a heart attack when she was in college.

“I cannot imagine that this day will come without her father,” she said in a shaky voice.

Alice Froussard, a French journalist who worked with Sarraj, remembered his humility, gentleness and professionalism in the field. “Every time we met up after ‘a war,’ we laughed about our dark circles, but he always won,” she told The Post.

Among some of his important stories, Froussard said, were on the toll of war on Palestinian women and about the youth who risked their lives on the Mediterranean to escape the blockade in Gaza. Without Sarraj, she added, “you wouldn’t have had all the postwar stories, after 2021, after 2022. Unfortunately, there will be no post-2023.”

Radio France, the French national public radio, in a statement on Sarraj’s death said his contributions were crucial as “the situation in Gaza is very difficult to cover for journalists, who cannot freely enter the enclave.”

In 2018, Sarraj’s colleague Yaser Murtaja was killed covering violence in Gaza’s Khan Younis area, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Oct. 7, following the Hamas attack, Sarraj’s colleague Ibrahim Lafi, 21, was killed near the Erez border crossing with Israel as fighting broke out. Two other colleagues remain missing.

Days before his own death, Sarraj told The Post that journalists in Gaza deserved protection. At least 29 journalists have been killed in the war, CPJ has reported, nearly all in Gaza.

Journalists killed in the Israel-Gaza war: A look at the lives lost

“It’s a nightmare, really. I really wish I would wake up from this nightmare,” Aila said. Her daughter cries a lot — missing her father, Aila believes. During the airstrikes that continue daily, she hugs the baby tightly.

“I’m just trying to hold on because I must spread the word about Roshdi. My beloved one. Habibi Roshdi,” she said.

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