IZBIT ABED RABBO, Gaza Strip It was just after noon on Friday and time for the weekly communal prayer on a day when many Gazans needed divine guidance, but there was no place to pray.
Where the three-story Salahadin mosque once stood in this northern Gaza village, theres only a mountain of rubble. Residents said that Israeli soldiers demolished the mosque, using dynamite and a bulldozer, two weeks ago during their war on the militant Islamic group Hamas.
So at prayer time in Izbit Abed Rabbo, the first Friday since both Israel and Hamas declared cease-fires, several dozen male worshippers gathered in a sandy clearing near the wreckage of the mosque. Some men laid down mats; others took off their jackets and spread them in the dirt. A few men sat with their knees in the sand and their heads bowed, listening to the sermon.
dears, we have to be patient. We have to have some faith in Allah, said the imam, Mohammed Hamad. Our prophets before us faced many struggles, and they were patient. We will wait for the compensation from God.
Israel says its forces crippled Hamas militants and their infrastructure, but they also did staggering damage to places that mark the everyday lives of Gazas 1.5 million people. More than 1,300 Gazans, as well as 13 Israelis, died in the conflict.
Salahadin, where Hamad has been the imam for about 15 years, was one of 23 mosques that Palestinian officials say were damaged or destroyed in the offensive, along with 25 schools and hospitals, 1,500 factories and commercial structures and several thousand homes and apartment buildings. On Friday, under threatening skies, many Gazans had no choice but to pray outdoors.
Israel says that Hamas uses civilians as shields, and military officials have released video of weapons stored in mosques.
Residents said that militants didnt use the Salahadin mosque, however, and that Israeli tactics did the gravest harm to civilians.