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Gaza City, Gaza – On May 19, shortly after midnight, a reconnaissance rocket penetrated the roof of the Muhareb family’s home in Rafah in the south of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Two minutes later, an Israeli warplane dropped another missile, which pierced two floors of the house but somehow failed to detonate.
“My brother and his family, who live on the second floor, were injured by the explosion of a reconnaissance rocket,” Wasim Mukhareb told Al Jazeera. “My four-month-old was in a coma for two days, and my eight-year-old niece Layan was in intensive care for 10 days with burns all over her body.”
The large house of the Mukhareb family, in which 36 adults and children lived, was destroyed. The second missile, before landing on the first floor, pierced one of the children’s bedrooms.
“There was no warning,” said Wasim, whose family now lives in a rented house nearby. “The whole test happened within three minutes.”
Risks and dangers
The next day, a bomb disposal unit arrived and removed unexploded ordnance and the remnants of a reconnaissance shell.
A detachment operating under the Ministry of the Interior has carried out 1,200 missions to neutralize, defuse and destroy unexploded warheads and dangerous ordnance in residential areas of Gaza since May 10, when Israel launched an 11-day bombing raid on the coastal enclave.
The escalation of violence followed the crackdown on demonstrators by Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem. Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, has issued an ultimatum to Israeli forces to withdraw from the area around the holy site, which is also sacred to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.
After the ultimatum expired, Hamas fired several rockets at Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter, Israel launched air raids on Gaza. At least 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed in the 11-day Israeli bombing, according to health officials. Rockets fired by armed groups in Gaza have killed at least 13 people in Israel. Hamas and Israel agreed on a ceasefire on May 21.
The bombing of Gaza caused widespread damage infrastructure, including the destruction of 1,800 residential buildings, 74 public buildings, 53 educational institutions and 33 media offices. Damage to the desalination plant left more than 250,000 Palestinians without clean drinking water.
Captain Mohammed Mekdad, an explosive device engineer at the Gaza Interior Ministry, told Al Jazeera that the 70-man bomb disposal squad has not been injured during operations since May 10, despite the absence of vital protective equipment.
“The team does not have safety vests or high-tech equipment to detect the presence of explosives,” Mekdad said. “They only have basic equipment, like the toolbox found in almost every home.”
The engineer said that amid the devastating 13-year Israeli blockade of Gaza, the entry of protective equipment used by bomb disposal groups in Gaza was prohibited.
Mekdad said the main risk associated with operating during the Israeli offensive was the possibility that the team could become a target.
“The second risk is the type of ammunition dropped by Israel, how dangerous they are, and whether the designated technician can assess all of this with the rudimentary equipment at his disposal,” Mekdad said.
The final step in the collection and disposal of unexploded ordnance is to transfer it to a central warehouse located in Rafah in preparation for destruction.
Mekdad said the recent offensive has seen a new type of weapon first used in the Gaza Strip – the GBU-31 and GBU-39 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) explosives. Designed to penetrate heavily fortified military targets, two-ton explosives were used to level high-rise buildings that housed residential apartments, as well as commercial and media offices.
Trainings and field experience
The Bomb Defusal Unit was created in 1996, when the Palestinian Authority ruled in Gaza. The first team took courses from experts from the USA, and in 2006 the team was strengthened with additional engineers and technicians.
After the deadly Israeli war of 2008-2009. offensive The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began operations in Gaza in addition to training the Interior Ministry’s bomb disposal team.
Between 2014 and 2020, UNMAS responded to 876 ammunition clearance (EOD) requests, directly removed and destroyed 150 large aerial bombs containing 29,500 kg of explosive materials, and provided support for the disposal of 7,340 Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).
Mekdad said the bomb disposal squad recruits are being trained by current staff based on their own years of field experience.
“For the past 10-11 years, no one working in this area has left Gaza to study outside the country,” he said.
‘Every day can be your last’
Assad al-Alul, who has led the bomb disposal team for the past eight years, said their work is most dangerous in the security unit, which includes police and internal security agencies.
“Choosing a job in this area is our choice and a sign of honor as we eliminate any harm and danger that threatens our citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Just working in explosives development means you’re a martyr,” he added. “Every day you go to work could mean your last day on earth, because any mistake means it will be the last mistake you will make — no exceptions.”
In 2014, three technicians from the bomb disposal team. were killed, in addition to the presence of a foreign journalist and a Palestinian translator at the scene after attempting to defuse a missile in northern Gaza.
Despite the risks associated with the work, al-Alul said he did not consider stopping the work.
“Who else will take control and protect our children from injury or death, knowing all these risks?” he said. “We are working to ensure a better future for the younger generation so that they do not have to live with amputations caused by a rocket or bomb explosion.”
“Every day you see death, but God is the savior. It is a great honor for me to die protecting our people. “
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