Israel-Hamas War

Protesters march through Chicago's Loop, prayer services held as Chicago reacts to Israel-Hamas war

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Imad Qendah said he’s glued to the television every day, hoping he doesn’t see his loved ones back home in Gaza among those killed on the news.

He said that’s the only way he’ll know if anything happened to them, because he hasn’t been able to communicate with his family since war broke out between Hamas and Israel.

“Two of my kids are there, I can’t go back. They don’t have water, they don’t have anything,” said Qendah, 38. “I can’t speak with my son, my daughter, my wife, my dad, my mom. The internet is off, their phone is off, everything is off. If they die, I’m just going to see it on the news.”

Qendah and two of his children, draped in the colors of the Palestinian flag, joined thousands of others Wednesday at a rally and march in the Loop in support of the Palestinian people. The demonstrators called for the U.S. government to step in and end the bloodshed, while some also held signs containing anti-Israel rhetoric.

The march was organized by the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine in collaboration with several other organizations.

“I feel bad, not just for my kids, for my family, for my country, for everything,” Qendah said.

Hamas stormed through a border fence Saturday and massacred hundreds of Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival.

The militant group -which has been designated a terrorist organization by multiple countries, including the U.S. - said it launched its attack because the suffering in Gaza had become intolerable under unending Israeli military occupation and increasing settlements in the West Bank and a 16-year blockade of coastal region.

Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections and in 2007 violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority, dominated by rival Fatah movement, administers semi-autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military said more than 1,200 people, including 189 soldiers, have been killed in Israel, a staggering toll unseen since the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria that lasted weeks. In Gaza, 1,100 people have been killed, according to authorities there. Several Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in clashes with Israeli forces.

Abdallah Alaa used to live in the West Bank, and his mom and sister are still there in Ramallah. He said he’s scared for their lives, and checks in with them daily.

“They hear bombs and missiles all day over the house. And actually a missile hit about five miles away from them, It’s really scary,” Alaa said, adding that it is currently impossible for his family to get to safety. “They can’t get to the airport or pass any checkpoints or nothing. It’s very, very dangerous over there.”

The U.S. is in active conversations to allow for safe passage out of Gaza for civilians, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday. The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency says 250,000 people have been displaced in Gaza.

The protest was largely peaceful aside from one incident where tempers flared. As the demonstrators marched through the Loop, someone on the sidewalk tried to grab a Palestinian flag from a protester and then fled inside a building. A group of protesters chased after the man but were unable to enter the building. The situation didn’t escalate further. A small group of protesters burned an Israeli flag away from the main march.

Following the protest, prayer services are being held and more are scheduled in Chicago and the suburbs to mourn both Israeli and Palestinian lives lost.

Speaking at an Israel solidarity event in Glencoe Tuesday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pledged his support, and that of the state, to the country as the attacks by Hamas continue.

“Each step of the way, they should know, and the people of Israel should all know, that America and Illinois unequivocally stands with them in their battle to end the ongoing Hamas attacks,” he said.

During his remarks, Pritzker drew distinctions between Hamas and the Palestinian civilians who live in Gaza.

In Alsip, several hundred people gathered at the Lighthouse Church of All Nations to mourn the loss of Israelis killed and those who were taken hostage by Hamas militants.

That includes an Evanston mother and daughter, who are believed to be among the hostages.

"I want them to know that we're doing everything in our power to bring them back," said relative Saray Cohen. "We do not forget them. We're very worried about them. We love you and we want to hug you and we want you back home."

Another group is expected to gather Thursday to publicly recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer, for both Israelis and Palestinians killed in the war. The event is slated for 5:15 p.m. Thursday in the AIDS Garden near Chicago's Belmont Harbor. The group says they will be singing prayers for peace and denouncing the apartheid policies they say led to this moment.

Another service is expected at 7 p.m. in Northbrook at the Congregation Beth Shalom, where clergy will be praying for members who have family in Israel.

The Associated Press contributed to this coverage.

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