Relatives belonging to a Palestinian journalist who visited Derry last year were killed when an Israeli mortar shell exploded outside their home on Wednesday.
Yousef Al-Helou, a freelance journalist who spent several days in Derry as part of a Derry Friends of Palestine event in September, said that three of the victims were his young cousins and that they were playing football when the mortar struck.
“I am totally devastated,” said Mr. Al-Helou. “My uncle and three of my little cousins were all killed - my family is totally distraught.”
The recent loss of life in the Gaza Strip comes after two Palestinian militants were killed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). Hamas retaliated by launching rockets into Israel which in turn led to the recent deaths in Gaza City.
Mr. Al-Helou claimed that the youngest victim, his seven-year-old cousin, had just come of out the family home in Gaza City when he was killed.
“My youngest cousin had just gone into the home to get some money to go to the shop when he was killed by the Israelis,” explained Mr. Al-Helou. “I’ve spoken to many of my family members back home in Gaza and they tell me that there are no militants in the area where my cousins and uncle live - they live in an area of high population - I have no idea why the Israelis decided to target them with such force.”
Mr. Al-Helou is currently on a speaking tour of the United Kingdom and said that since tensions have heightened in Gaza he is frightened for the welfare and safety of his wife and three daughters.
“I spoke to my wife a few days ago and while she assures me they are safe she tells me that they are still terrified at what Israel might do next. Israel have been acting with impunity for too long in Gaza - there is no proportion to their actions. I hope to return home soon.”
When he visited Derry in 2010 Mr. Al-Helou addressed hundreds of people in the Guildhall. He said that the people of Gaza are aware that they have considerable support in Derry and praised the decision of several Derry people to take part in the forthcoming ‘Freedom Flotilla’ at the end of May.
“I remember my visit to Derry like it was yesterday. The people there were very friendly and welcoming to me - that’s something I’ll never forget. There is a great solidarity between our two nations and I can’t thank those people from Derry enough who will be on board the Irish ship bound for Gaza at the end of May.”