Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip Hundreds of Palestinians serving as human shields guarded the homes of two top militants Sunday, a new tactic that forced Israel to call off missile strikes on the buildings and re-evaluate a mainstay of its aerial campaign in Gaza.
In recent months, the Israeli air force has repeatedly struck the homes of militants after warning residents by phone to clear out.
The standoff over the homes of the militants began late Saturday when Mohammed Baroud, local leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, was informed by the army that his house would be hit. The three-story building is home to 17 people from Baroud's family. A militant from Hamas also received a warning.
Instead of fleeing, though, the two decided to stay in their homes and called in reinforcements. They were quickly joined by crowds of supporters, including dozens of armed men, who gathered on balconies, rooftops and in the streets outside.
"Death to Israel. Death to America," the crowds chanted. Local mosques and Palestinian TV and radio stations also mobilized supporters.
Baroud, involved in rocket attacks on Israel, said he and his fellow militants had planned the response a few days earlier when another house was destroyed in a missile strike.
Israeli military officials acknowledged they had no solution for the standoff.
By Sunday afternoon, about two dozen women were milling around on Baroud's roof, shielded from the sun by green tarp. One story below them, about a dozen men were resting on mattresses.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas stopped by to show support. "We are so proud of this national stand. It's the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children," he said.