A reporter in Gaza City looks at the rubble of his hometown
EDITOR'S NOTE - Ibrahim Barzak, AP's chief correspondent in Gaza City for 17 years and a lifelong resident of the enclave, has lived through Israel's offensive that began Dec. 27. Here he recounts what has happened to some of the personal and public landmarks of his life.
GAZA CITY - 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. The Hadi grocery where we once shopped is closed. Food is scarce all over town.
Three days after Israel began its airstrikes against Hamas militants 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 if we will ever go back.
There are other pictures that haunt me. The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas-run government compound, which it posted on YouTube. In it, I also can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.
On Tuesday, I stood outside my apartment building but didn't dare enter. I was worried the remains of the nearby compound might again be shelled.
Driving to central Gaza City, I took the road where Gaza's two main universities are. 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.
The Mazaj coffee shop on Omar Mukhtar Street, Gaza's main thoroughfare, was shuttered. It was popular with wealthy university students because it served really good Guatemalan coffee - rumored to have been smuggled in through the same tunnels under the Egyptian border the militants used to bring in weapons.
Al Dera, a beautiful hotel on the Mediterranean, was a place where young men and women flirted, and where families went for dinner on Thursdays.
Those days are gone now.
On Tuesday, the only shop I found open was the Shifa pharmacy run by my friend Eyad Sayegh. He's an Orthodox Christian, and I stopped to wish him a Merry Christmas - Eastern churches celebrated Christmas yesterday.
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, where the central jail was. Now it's rubble.
The Al Shuhada mosque on the eastern corner of the compound, where I prayed every day, was one of the few in Gaza with good air conditioning. A local philanthropist who liked Moroccan architecture redecorated the interior with intricate wooden arabesques and Koranic verses etched on the roof. The roof caved in when the Israelis bombed the jail next door.
And across the city, the Parliament house is half destroyed.
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 bottles and jerry cans, trying to fill them with water.
I drove into downtown Gaza, trying to prove to myself I can still do something I have done so often before - drive through my city.
I reached the Catholic Latin Patriarchate School I attended, where my late father - also an AP correspondent - used to bring me every day. The building was undamaged.
I stood in front of it, wondering if I will ever be able to walk my children to this school.