- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip | I live alone in my office. My wife and two young children moved in with her father after our apartment was shattered. The neighborhood mosque, where I have prayed since I was a child, had its roof blown off. All the government buildings on my beat have been obliterated.

After days of Israeli shelling, the city and life I have known no longer exist.

Gaza City, with some 400,000 people, stopped supplying water when the fuel ran out for the power station driving the pumps. We listen to battery-run radios for news, even though the outside world watches what’s happening to us on television. Grocery stores are closed and food is scarce.

Hospital officials say more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military operation to crush Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that rules Gaza. Many of the dead are civilians.

Three days after Israel began its air strikes on Gaza on Dec. 27, my apartment building was shaken by bombs aimed at a nearby Hamas-run government compound.

My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken; shrapnel had punched through the closet; and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don’t know whether we will ever go back.

The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas compound, which it posted on YouTube. I can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

On Tuesday, I stood outside my apartment building but didn’t dare to enter. I was worried the remains of the nearby Hamas compound might again be shelled without warning.

Driving back to central Gaza City, I took the road where Gaza’s two main universities are located. It was covered with shards of glass, telephone cables, electricity wires and flattened cars. This road was once crowded with students, taxis and street vendors. It was always noisy and jammed.

The only shop I found open was a pharmacy run by my friend Eyad Sayegh. He is an Orthodox Christian, and I stopped to wish him a Merry Christmas - Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

Eyad told me he forgot it was Christmas.

All the landmark buildings I covered as a reporter have vanished.

The colonial-era Seraya was the main security compound for the succession of Gaza’s rulers - the British, Egyptians, Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and then the rival Palestinians of Hamas.

We used to fear the Seraya, the site of the central jail. Now it’s rubble.

Of the presidential office overlooking the sea only a few walls remain. For many Gazans it was a symbol of our statehood, even though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Fatah movement, hasn’t been there since Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007.

Someone planted a Palestinian flag on the building’s remains. The huge gate at the western entrance still stands, giving an illusion of something big behind it.

And across the city, the Parliament house is half demolished.

On Jala Street, one of Gaza’s main roads, I saw about 30 boys around a leaky irrigation tap on a traffic island. They were clutching empty soft drink bottles and jerry cans, trying to fill them with water.

Samir, who is 9, told me his family has no water at home and he wanted to bring enough for a bath because he and his brother smell.

So do most people in Gaza right now.

Ibrahim Barzak, AP’s chief correspondent in Gaza City for 17 years, has not only covered but lived through Israel’s offensive on Gaza, which began Dec. 27.

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