Praying in Gaza has become a deadly pastime in as Israel has deliberately targeted mosques in its nearly two-week assault on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israeli air strikes have targeted at least 14 mosques, with the latest destroyed Saturday by a half-ton bomb dropped from an F-16. Sixteen people were killed and dozens wounded while performing the sunset prayers in Ibrahim al-Maqadna Mosque in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.
The massacre prompted many Palestinians to stop praying in mosques. Israel alleges that Hamas uses mosques as training camps and to hide weapons, the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Monday.
Attacks against places of worship are considered “grave breaches” – which are war crimes – against the Geneva Convention.
Not all Palestinians have given up on praying in mosques, despite the risk. Osama Salman, 42, still prays in al-Muhajereen mosque in Berket al-Waz and says that praying at home is not safe either.
"Many people were killed in their homes," he said. "I will continue praying in the mosque."
Islamic scholars have issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing Muslims to merge the five daily prayers to reduce the time spent in mosques.
Families living near Hamas-run mosques are taking extreme security measures in case these mosques are bombed while others have evacuated their homes.
Israeli airstrikes on Emad Akl Mosque in Jabalia refugee camp destroyed an adjacent house and killed five sisters.
Among the other mosques that have been bombed are Abu Bakr al-Siddiq mosque in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza Strip, the historic al-Nasr mosque built in 736, and Omar ibn Abdul-Aziz mosque in the south. In Gaza City, al-Shefaa and al-Abbas mosques were also bombed.
Israeli airstrikes also targeted Bilal ibn Rabah mosque in Rafah and al-Qassam mosque in Khan Yunis.
More than 580 people, at least 20 percent of them civilians, have been killed since the Israeli invasion began Dec. 27.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)