With an unprecedented intensity, Israeli air strikes target Gaza's Rimal neighbourhood, turning restaurants, shops and homes into collapsed buildings, charred debris and cratered roads.

A Palestinian man reacts as he looks at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza City's Rimal neighbourhood on May 18, 2021.
A Palestinian man reacts as he looks at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza City's Rimal neighbourhood on May 18, 2021. (AFP)

Gaza's Rimal neighbourhood was not flashy – surely not a Santa Monica but a hat tip to a normalcy missing from most of blockaded enclave.

Rimal was long a place of relative calm and prosperity in the crowded enclave – until Israeli bombing pounded much of it to rubble.

Locals say some 200 strikes have hit the area in nine days of conflict, replacing the downtown neighbourhood's cafes, restaurants, shops and homes with collapsed buildings, charred debris and cratered roads.

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza's Rimal residential district on May 20, 2021, during Israeli bombardment on the enclave.
A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza's Rimal residential district on May 20, 2021, during Israeli bombardment on the enclave. (AFP)

When Israel bombs nearby, "the whole house shakes like in an earthquake," said Rimal resident Abu Ahmad al Hassanat, 50.

Hassanat said he had moved to the area from southern Gaza, which he deemed too dangerous after his previous family home there was destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

"I thought I was safe this time," he said. 

"But unfortunately, my house was destroyed. This is the third time. I don't know where else to go to find safety."

Palestinian rescue workers help people injured by Israeli air strikes on the civilian Rimal district of Gaza.
Palestinian rescue workers help people injured by Israeli air strikes on the civilian Rimal district of Gaza. (AA)

Those who live in Gaza say to an outsider, Rimal would look like "a very normal place", but to those who live in the enclave, Rimal is a prosperous area. That was before Israel's assault started.

The waterfront Rashid Street, with its hotels and street vendors selling falafel and ice cream, has also been hit by the Israeli air force, damaging many businesses.

Where only weeks ago people jogged to escape the pressures of the pandemic lockdown in the blockaded territory, families are now running for their lives, out of buildings targeted for destruction in air strikes.

Israeli warplanes launched an air strike on a building called
Israeli warplanes launched an air strike on a building called "Hanady" in the Rimal District of Gaza. Civilians were evacuated from the building before the attack. (AA)

Israel's latest assault on the enclave started on May 10. The attack follows rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza, which was reacting to spiking tensions in occupied Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Israeli police deployed heavy-handed tactics against Palestinian worshippers in and around Al Aqsa Mosque in the last week of the holy month.

Another flashpoint in recent days has been a court case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from occupied East Jerusalem homes in Sheikh Jarrah claimed by Jewish settlers.

An excavator clears the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave.
An excavator clears the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave. (AFP)

Israel, vowing to punish Hamas and degrade its weapons arsenal for years to come, replied by hammering the crowded, impoverished enclave with strikes of breathless intensity. 

Except, instead of any purported stash of weapons, Israel's air assault has killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, since the start of the violence, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Israel's attack has destroyed nearly 1,000 residential and commercial units, UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. This is in addition air strikes rendering 678 residential units inhabitable.

It also damaged more than 10,000 metres of underground sewage and water lines, as well as wastewater networks, sewage evacuation vehicles, wells and a wastewater pumping station. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign ambassadors on Wednesday that militants were using tunnel infrastructure underneath the Rimal neighbourhood.

READ MORE: Israel strikes on Gaza raze family homes, clinics as death toll mounts

The Israeli army shot down Al Shawwa building in Rimal, where the Qatar Red Crescent office and other NGOs are located. As a result of the attack, the building nearby housing Gaza's sole Covid laboratory, Al Remal health centre, was also damaged.
The Israeli army shot down Al Shawwa building in Rimal, where the Qatar Red Crescent office and other NGOs are located. As a result of the attack, the building nearby housing Gaza's sole Covid laboratory, Al Remal health centre, was also damaged. (AA)

'No one is safe'

Another resident, 50-year-old Dunia al Amal Ismail, said that until the latest military escalation, "we thought the 2014 war was the worst, the deadliest."

That confrontation between Israel and Hamas lasted 51 days, ravaged Gaza and left at least 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, most of them civilians.

On the Israeli side, 74 people died, mostly soldiers.

The Israeli army that time mainly targeted areas of Gaza near its own territory.

But this time, "the attacks are on the heart of the city," said Ismail, who heads the Creative Women association.

"Nobody is safe."

READ MORE: Hamas confident on ceasefire as Israel continues relentless bombing of Gaza

Palestinians evacuate a girl from the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Palestinians evacuate a girl from the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on May 16, 2021, following massive Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave. (AFP)

'The beauty is gone'

Ismail said Israel had crossed "all the red lines" by launching deadly strikes on Rimal's busy Wehda thoroughfare.

"Rimal used to be the safest and calmest neighbourhood in Gaza city, but now everything is destroyed," said Ismail.

"It's the terrifying images of the neighbourhood that will remain seared in my memory," she said.

"All its beauty is gone."

A Palestinian man reacts as he looks at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza's Rimal neighbourhood on May 18, 2021.
A Palestinian man reacts as he looks at an unexploded bomb dropped by an Israeli F-16 warplane on Gaza's Rimal neighbourhood on May 18, 2021. (AFP)

Israel's military regularly telephones people to give them advance warning that a building will be targeted in what it says is an effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Moein Abbas, 47, a frozen food shop owner living in Tel al Hawa neighbourhood, recalled how he was sitting with his neighbours when an Israeli army officer called.

"He told me, 'We are going to bomb your neighbour's house,' so I rushed over to tell them," he said.

A Palestinian boy selling bread pushes his cart in an empty street in Gaza's Rimal area on May 20, 2021.
A Palestinian boy selling bread pushes his cart in an empty street in Gaza's Rimal area on May 20, 2021. (AA)

Then "I ran from house to house to tell everyone to evacuate, as the Israeli officer stayed on the other end of the line."

And sure enough, an Israeli missile finally hit and destroyed the neighbours' house, he said.

Abbas has lived through three Gaza wars, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

The current bombardment, he said, has been the "most difficult."

READ MORE: Gaza’s health system devastated amid ongoing conflict

Source: TRTWorld and agencies