Fatma Abumousa was glued to her phone as the awful details trickled in about the Israeli airstrike.
First, it was confirmed the bombing took place in her family’s neighborhood in southern Gaza. Then, that it was her family’s four-story home. The details came piecemeal posted on social media by journalists and activists who go to bombing sites to film and report on casualties.
Then came what she most feared: A post listed the bombing victims and included the names of five of her relatives.
“I start to see my family names, my sister-in-law, the kids,” said Abumousa, 41, trailing off as she began crying during an interview at her home in Blaine.
“She collapsed and had to sit down,” recalled her husband, Jehad Adwan. “She couldn’t get up.”
Abumousa’s five relatives were killed by consecutive rockets that hit the family’s home in the Khan Younis refugee camp about noon Sunday. They included Abumousa’s sister-in-law Heba, 42, her sister-in-law’s two sons, ages 8 and 18, another 6-year-old nephew, and a 43-year-old cousin. At least eight others in the home were injured.
The fighting on the other side of the world in Gaza is having a brutal impact on some people in Minnesota. Local families of Israelis, including relatives of a former St. Paul teacher, and Palestinians are mourning those killed.
The airstrikes were part of Israeli retaliation after an October 7 attack by Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza. Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, sent its fighters across the border to kill hundreds of residents of nearby Israeli settlements. They burned families alive in their homes, slaughtered about 200 young people at a music festival, took an estimated 200 hostages and fired thousands of rockets. They killed at least 1,400 Israelis.
Israel declared war against Hamas, fired missiles, bombs, and artillery, and cut off the water, medicines and electricity it had supplied to Gaza. So far, more than 3,700 Palestinians have been killed.
Adwan, a nursing professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato and a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Gaza, said it has been hard to focus on work with the turmoil in his homeland. His wife moved from Gaza to Minnesota three years ago, and the two have a 21-month-old son.
Photos showed that the airstrike in Gaza pierced the roof of the family home and hit the third floor, knocking out the upper walls but not collapsing the structure.
The cousin who died, Hani Madhoun, had fled northern Gaza and was staying at the house. He was downstairs when the first bomb hit and had rushed upstairs to check on the injured when he was killed by a second bomb.
Adwan, 54, said he’s angered by the bombing because it was in the south, where Israel had instructed Gazans to flee to avoid additional attacks.
“It’s like a fish tank, and you’re just shooting through, knowing, more probable than not, you’re going to harm civilians, and that is a war crime,” he said.
The 18-year-old boy killed, Hmaid Abumousa, had just finished high school and hoped to become a computer engineer, Adwan said.
“He was a brilliant young man who had a huge future and was very talented in every meaning of the word,” his uncle said. “All that was cut short.”
Heba, the boy’s mother, wrote novels and poetry, Adwan said. Two of her other children were injured.
Abumousa said she’s been unable to sleep much, usually just one or two hours at a time.
“I want to hear their voices and be assured that they’re safe, I want to be with them,” she said.
The previous night, airstrikes had hit Adwan’s southern hometown of Rafah, he added.
“It was so close to where my brothers and sisters live, less than half a mile away,” he said.
Before the interview earlier this week, Adwan was watching Al Jazeera coverage of the aftermath of an explosion that killed civilians at the hospital where he completed his nursing training long ago. Hamas alleged it was an Israeli attack, but Israel said it was a failed Hamas rocket that hit the hospital.
Asked his opinion on Hamas, Adwan said he doesn’t support any of the Palestinian factions.
Throughout each day, he picks up tragic news about what’s happened in his hometown and to his friends.
He recently found out a friend who owned a cat café in Gaza had her apartment building leveled. The woman living there escaped before it was bombed, but the cats were in her apartment and didn’t make it out when evacuation orders came, he said.
“She didn’t have anything to carry her children or to carry the cats, so she left the cats behind,” he said.
The couple noted it has been a challenge to get updates on the surviving family in the hospital because of internet and power outages.
“My brother just tried to call me on Messenger before the internet went out, said we probably have minutes, but then when I saw it, it was too late,” he said.
Like his wife, Adwan said he wishes he were still in Gaza.
“I said the other day I’d rather be home and die with my brothers and sisters than being here and just crying all day and feeling helpless and powerless,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, some nearby friends, who also are from Gaza, stopped by the house to bring food and grieve with the family.