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AP Exclusive: Gaza family loses 22 people on war’s deadliest night

This undated combination photo shows Undated family photos show some of the 22 members of the al-Kawlak family who died in the deadliest air strike of the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel says the May 16 air strike targeted a Hamas tunnel under the street used for military operations. Israel accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields. The May 16 bombing raid, which Israel says targeted Hamas tunnels, collapsed two apartment buildings in Gaza City and killed 22 members of the al-Kawlak clan, including a 6-month-old boy and his 89-year-old great-grandfather. (Al-Kawlak family via AP)

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AP Middle East news director Karin Laub and Gaza reporter Fares Akram were looking for a way to tell the story of the heavy toll paid by Gaza’s civilians in last month’s war between Israel and Hamas militants, with scores of civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed. As they went through a list of people killed in Israeli airstrikes, they noticed that the youngest and oldest victims came from the same family — the Kawlaks.

The family of four generations lived next door to each other in downtown Gaza City, unprepared for the Israeli air raid that came at about 1 a.m. on May 16, causing homes belonging to the family to collapse. The Kawlaks lost 22 members that night — including the 89-year-old family patriarch and his 6-month-old great grandson who had just lost his first tooth. Three young nieces were found dead in a tight embrace, said one of the survivors. Israel said the strike, the single deadliest of the 11-day war, was aimed at Hamas military targets in the crowded Gaza City neighborhood.

Laub and Akram made a series of visits to the family hoping to interview them. At first,they were reluctant,but the AP pair managed to gain their trust,eventually getting an exclusive all-formats interview. Thanks to their efforts,the family shared death certificates of all of the victims,along with photos of the men and children. For cultural reasons,the family chose not to provide photos of the women.

With strong visuals from video journalist Dumitrache and photographers Hamra and Dana,the result was a compelling account of the terrifying night of the bombing, the family’s immense grief and poignant remembrances of lost loved ones.

Gaza Staff
In photo at left, in Gaza City, May 2021, video journalist Nicolae Dumitrache, standing, and Gaza reporter Fares Akram interview Azzam al-Kawlak, who lost 22 family members in a May 16 Israeli air raid. In photo at right, Karin Laub, right, speaks with Awni al-Kawlak, who shows her death certificates for 22 of his family members killed in the air raid. – AP Photos / Felipe Dana
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