Gaza Family Mourns The Loss Of A Son, Brother — And Hamas Militant
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Isreal and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire set to begin tomorrow. Several cease-fire plans have fallen apart in the conflict that began a month ago. Attacks have slowed between the two sides, though, more rockets were fired on both sides today. Also, police said, one Israeli died when a Palestinian construction worker crashed a back hoe into a Jerusalem bus.
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In all, some 60 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died. The death toll in Gaza - more than 1,800, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel says, it has killed more than 700 militants. In Israel's eyes, they are terrorists who target civilians. NPR's Emily Harris met the family of one Hamas militant in Gaza who has kept his - who had kept his fighting a role secret until he was killed.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Ahmed Abu Thoraya died July 19th in a tunnel ambush thwarted by Israeli troops. His older brother Mohammed Abu Thoraya knew Ahmed was part of Hamas, but says, he only got the feeling shortly before his little brother's death that he was a fighter for the group.
MOHAMMED ABU THORAYA: (Through translator) He kept telling me he had stuff that belonged to other guys. This belongs to that guy, and that to this other guy. And in the case anything happened, he told me I had to make sure they got their stuff.
HARRIS: Ahmed Abu Thoraya wanted to make sure clothing was returned to friends and a phone charger. Mohammed said, he was told his younger brother died on a combat mission.
M. THORAYA: (Through translator) I was told they'd all been only injured, and they are Al-Aksa Hospital. But when I got there, I found them all dead and already in the morgue.
HARRIS: A uniform of green pants and a black shirt didn't hide the shrapnel wounds on the dead fighter's face and a bad injury to his left leg. Mohammed Abu Thoraya said, he's not surprised his younger brother didn't tell him he joined Al-Kassam, the militant wing of the Hamas movement. Members keep their identities secret. He's also not surprised his brother joined.
M. THORAYA: (Through translator) My brother wanted to be part of Al-Kassam. He liked weapons. He liked the idea of resisting Israel.
(SOUNDBITE OF GIRL YELLING)
HARRIS: He says, Ahmed loved playing with his two-year-old niece Sufa, though he played rough. He was a sportsman, swimming in the ocean ever since he was a kid and taking long runs to keep in fighting shape. Al-Kassam fighters, Mohammed says, have to pass physical, mental and religious training.
Thirteen other Hamas militants died in the same operation. All were from the same Gaza town, Deir al-Balah. Local grocer Bilal Barghout said, one died owing him more than $500, but his family paid the debt before the funeral.
BILAL BARGHOUT: (Through translator) It's an Islamic tradition if you owe money, you tell your family, so in case anything happens, they will pay. If you die a martyr, everything is forgiven except your debts.
HARRIS: Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist organization that hides among civilians. Hamas fires rockets indiscriminately into Israel, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to deal a severe blow to the group. Barghout says, Israel has not finished off Hamas. He believes the movement has widespread support.
BARGHOUT: (Through translator) You don't have to carry a weapon be part of the resistance. My role during the war was to keep the store open, even 24 hours sometimes, because people need food to survive.
HARRIS: Sitting on a mat near a breezy hallway in a friend's home, the mother of the former militant fighter Ahmed Abu Thoraya has little to say about his death.
THORAYA: (Through translator) I was shocked. I didn't know anything. They just told me, your son is dead. I didn't know he was with Al-Kassam.
HARRIS: Her youngest son had saved several thousand dollars, hoping to find a bride. But he left instructions that his mother should use it for a religious pilgrimage instead. She's says, the last thing he told her was to pray for him.
THORAYA: (Through translator) Like always, he said, Mom, please pray for me. And I would. And he'd say again, later, Mom, please pray for me. And I would.
HARRIS: Brother Mohammed says, he can't put into words his feelings of loss. But he says, it helps knowing that Ahmed died fighting for what he insists is a good cause. His mother, two weeks after her son's death, has just this to say about her feelings.
THORAYA: (Foreign language spoken).
HARRIS: Praise God, she says, and looks away. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.