AIRBORNE OVER THE GAZA STRIP
The squadron of four United States Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles based at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey was now over Palestinian territory just north of Gaza City. Each pilot had at least three years of experience flying in combat, most recently in Syria providing close air support for Kurdish forces fighting against ISIS terrorists in the town of Kobane and in northern Iraq protecting Iraqi Christians from being massacred by the marauding jihadists. As always, they were confident in their training and in their knowledge that the F-15E with its capabilities and countermeasures was one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. While intelligence reports indeed indicated that the Iranians had armed Hamas with military grade weapons, this didn't concern them. Yes, the skies over Gaza City were too hot for helicopters, but certainly not for them. After all, their jets could climb several miles above the ground in less than 60 seconds.
This mission was different, however. They were providing support not to foreign allies, but for American soldiers operating in enemy territory. The pilots had all been briefed in the air about Jack's situation, minus of course the part about the nuclear bomb, but that was enough. Here was an American hero who had played an instrumental role in stopping the terrorist atrocity at the high school in Tel Aviv and who had already fought his way out of Hamas captivity inflicting impressive losses on the enemy. And of all the places in the Middle East, Palestine was the last place they expected to go for the obvious political reasons, but here they were, and it was about time. Hamas was officially a terrorist organization and should have been a legitimate target years ago, the pilots all thought.
Their mission was focused on the port area along the Gaza Strip's Mediterranean coast, and they could see the target area soon after arriving over Gaza City. After some brief confirmation with the Israeli Air Force jets also operating over Gaza, the American squadron was soon given a clear flight path toward the harbor area which looked just as battered from the air as from ground level. They just hope they had arrived in time.
PORT AREA, GAZA CITY
Jack could now no longer accurately count the number of hostiles his team was facing. Every time he even attempted to turn and look beyond his barricaded position, bursts of gunfire erupted from seemingly countless spots from both the Bank of Palestine building and from the port authority offices.
Rachel also took turns trying to fire back, squeezing off some shots at the bank building but not hitting anyone and quickly having to take cover. "Fuck!" she said and also cursed in Hebrew as her gun stopped firing.
"Dammit Jack!" she said, "I'm almost out. I only have three clips left and we weren't able to salvage Merina's weapons!"
They heard screaming and commands being barked in Arabic and more terrorists shouting Islamic slogans. Jack tried to listen closely to decipher what they were saying. He saw what looked to be a local field commander in a Hamas kaffiyeh and bandana directing his men with hand motions and shouting frantically into a cell phone. The attackers' uniforms indicated that they came from the Izz-al-Din Brigades, the Hamas paramilitary force devoted to street fighting as opposed to the terrorists trained in hostage takings and bombings. He was urging his men to attack en masse and also was in communication with the brigade that was to provide reinforcements. If he didn't know better he'd think the Hamas members was gearing up to fight an entire army and not three individuals but Jack was not in the mood to gloat about how much the terrorists respected him as an enemy.
"Bauer!" Henderson's voice finally came, "The F-15s are overhead now, are you in the same position?"
"Yes, dammit, sir!" Jack said, all military protocol out of the window now. "We're under attack from snipers and fire teams in the Bank of Palestine building and the port office building to our ten o'clock position! We need support now!"
"You're still a little too close!" Jack said, "Our pilots have a lock on the target, you need to move at least twenty more feet away from the blast area!"
"That's suicide!" Jack screamed, "You need to…." He was cut off again by a hail of bullets the whizzed by them and slammed into a ruined cement column, sending plaster flying everywhere.
"You need to make it!" Rafi said, stepping out and opened fire on the advancing terrorists as the hostiles in the buildings also focused their gunfire on him.
"Dammit!" Jack cursed again but knew that while he didn't ask for this opening, it was best that he took it. Rachel nodded her implicit understanding and they both emerged from their barricaded position. Rafi opened up with his assault rifle, shooting down two terrorists before ducking again, retreating along with Jack and Rachel.
A bullet fired from one of the snipers in the bank hit Rafi in the back and came back out through his belly, then as he turned another bullet struck him in the chest. Before Rafi fell, however, he emptied his gun on the hostiles who were slowly continued to approach, killing one of them.
"We're out of range now!" Rachel shouted into the phone then joined Jack in tending to Rafi. The entire front of his shirt was saturated in blood and his pulse was quickly weakening.
"Rafi, I'm so sorry!" Jack said, choking on his words. In the past two hours, all three of the CIA agents who had so bravely risked everything to help him had fallen.
"Just….just go, Jack."
AIRBORNE OVER GAZA CITY
That moment, the pilots of the first two F-15Es confirmed their target locks, then each released a GBU-15 laser guided bomb toward the terrorist-infested structures. The first GBU-15 plowed through the roof of the Bank of Palestine, completely demolishing it in a giant fireball. It was as it a giant force had chewed up the building and spit it out, large chunks of structural pieces, glass, and metal rods being hurled in all directions. Seconds later, the other bomb hit its target as well.
The second bomb was targeted at the sidewalk next to the port authority building rather than the center because of the group of six Hamas vehicles, including armored Humvees loaded with more than two dozen foot soldiers disembarking from the vehicles. All of them were immediately vaporized by the intense fireball which entered the port building from the rear. The force of the blast caused the rest of the structure to implode. Jack looked up and literally saw the muzzle flashes of the gunners disappear as the floors fell down like a stack of pancakes, smashing them and snuffling out their screams of rage and fear.
The other two fighter pilots focused on another possession of Hamas fighters approaching the area, going through a ruined neighborhood. Mahmoud's own convoy had already entered the dense industrial district by the port and was hidden in the narrow alleyways but the other Hamas reinforcements were still widely exposed. This was an excellent opportunity to neutralize these enemies with minimal risk to civilians.
Three GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs were spit out by the other two jets, quickly locking onto the target coordinates. By the time the terrorists on the ground saw the flash from the sky, it was too late. Seconds later, the bombs fell basically on their heads, each fireball adding to the one next to it. As the jets circled around for another pass, the flight leader dropped another such warhead on a makeshift staging area the terrorists were beginning to set up in a local shop. The impact was heard several miles away and another gray and black plume of smoke began rising into the sky. With this strike, most of the communications between the terrorists operating at the port and the rest of Hamas was cut.
Jack was now tending to Rafi who lay gasping on the ground. The gunfire had temporarily died down as the punishing airstrike had significantly reduced the Hamas manpower in the area and the survivors were still in a daze trying to get their senses back together before they could press on with their attack. Jack was just glad the enemy didn't have any heavy armor to send against them.
"I'm sorry we failed you and Merina, that we weren't able to get you to safety," Jack said to Rafi.
"Jack," Rafi replied weakly, "Don't forget it was our job to make sure you two made it out. I know where I am going. I am ready to leave this world behind Jack and go to my real home in heaven. You….you have your whole life in front of you. This is not your time to go. Please….please just do one thing for me."
"What is it, Rafi? I promise. I give you my word."
"Just…." He began choking on the blood that was filling his lungs. "I…..I want you to read the Bible and at least think about it and consider it. It…it's changed my life. Maybe it will change yours."
Jack and Rachel both nodded, but before either of them could say anything, Rafi's body went limp. Jack didn't think now was the time to think about spiritual matters. Rachel did put that in the back of her mind and knew she owed Rafi at least that much, to think about the larger things in life, but then again, the idea of being ethnically Jewish and accepting Christ as the Messiah would have to be pondered on another day.
The two of them saw that it was clear for now and made a dash for it, stepping through the piles of corrugated metal and broken walls that used to be the dockside warehouse. Sure enough, the pursuers were coming again. Jack could count at least seven terrorists making their way toward the warehouse, heading across an open loading area.
SINBAD MARINA, PORT OF GAZA
As they had expected, the Sinbad Marina was nearly deserted. They were both exhausted by the exertion of the last showdown and having to sprint the final distance to the marina instead of drive as was the previous plan.
A single Palestinian policeman emerged from the marina's security station shouting. "What are you doing here? We are not open for business!"
Jack quickly drew his pistol and killed the guard with a shot to the chest, his body falling against the guard station then to the ground. "I'm always in business," Jack said, then added darkly, "Thanks to the likes of you." He and Rachel stepped over the guard's body and jumped over the rope blocking off the docks lined with modern pleasure craft, mostly speedboats and cabin cruisers but some smaller sized yachts too. While this marina looked like it could be on any ordinary lake in America, it was extravagant by Third World standards and only Gaza's wealthiest businessmen could afford a boat here. Jack saw a mid-sized American-made speedboat and jumped into it. Like all the other ones docked here, it was temporarily deserted by its owner.
AIRBORNE OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA, OFF THE COAST OF ISRAEL
Henderson observed the live satellite footage from the battle area, seeing the smoke rising from the ruins of the two structures that had just been leveled by the American airstrikes and the bodies of the terrorists sprawled across the open area outside the Sinbad Marina that had been hit by the second wave of jets providing close air support for Jack and Rachel.
But now they were too close.
"Sir, our pilots are reporting one additional concentration of hostiles at the marina now. They're not sure if Bauer and Friedman are going to be in the blast radius," one of the soldiers radioed from back on base.
"It's too close. I'm going to keep them to be clear of the harbor. Anything else arising from the battlefield?" Henderson asked.
There was a pause. "Sir, there looks like to be another major concentration of terrorist forces heading toward the Gaza seawall. They're not close to the marina but it looks like they're going to try to cut off Bauer's escape. Wait…..we also see two gunboats departing from the Palestinian harbor patrol facility at Al-Shaiti."
"Have the Air Force take them out if possible then concentration on the hostile to the north!"
The jets swooped low toward the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, creating large ripples in the sea then lifted up against as they approached the Al-Shati police facility that housed Gaza's harbor patrol vessels.
"We have a visual on the target, ready to unleash the payload."
"Roger that," came the reply back from Incirlik. Their superiors were in good coordination with both the Pentagon and Henderson, all of whom were watching the events live. Each plane dropped two laser guided bombs, carpet bombing the Palestinian police station and the naval facility. The enemy forces desperately tried to find cover to no avail as a hail of death and destruction rained down from above, saturating the area. A gigantic fireball appeared on the first floor of the 4-story maritime patrol headquarters then reached up and swallowed up the entire structure. Another warhead struck a harbor patrol boat as it tried to join the two already sailing north. Only three sailors were able to jump overboard because their vessel was blown to smithereens, but they two were killed as the debris was propelled through the water in all directions.
The first two jets now made a sharp turn, heading due north, seeing the two gunboats in the distance. Before the maritime facility was destroyed, however, the Palestinian fighters were able to unleash almost a dozen Iranian surface-to-air missiles. The pilots first priority was obviously to ensure the survival of themselves and their aircraft. All four jets did evasive maneuvers but the missiles were able to get a radar lock on two of them. The squadron made a sharp turn south and east to avoid the warheads. This forced them away from the two surviving Palestinian gunboats.
The F-15E pilots released chaff which took care of most of the missiles as the deadly fireworks display appeared over Gaza City. It was then that a fuller extent of the Hamas arsenal was revealed. The American jets were forced to go into a sharp climb as more SAMs, some of them shoulder launched by terrorists on rooftops of apartment buildings, began flying toward them. None of the US aircraft were hit, but the barrage forced them to temporary turn their attention away from the mission.
SINBAD MARINA, PORT OF GAZA
Jack saw several terrorists rushing down an adjacent dock, going for some parked motorboats, and quickly opened fire in their direction. Several terrorists took cover while one particularly determined hostile insisted on continuing taking shots at Jack until he was finally felled by a burst by the M-16 which sent him tumbling into the water with a splash.
They were thankful for the temporary reprieve in the gunfire as they went onto the relatively large speedboat which had a small section by the helm that was semi-enclosed to protect those passengers who were particularly sensitive to the wind.
Rachel was about to ask him if he knew how to get the boat started, but saw that Jack was already beginning to hotwire it.
"Stand watch for the moment while I do this, but make sure you take cover!" Jack told her. He was shocked by some sparks. "Dammit!" Rachel looked down the dock and saw the terrorists coming closer, but she could not get a good shot. A few seconds later, Jack had the boat up and running.
"You know how to operate this thing?" Jack asked, praying that he wouldn't need to drive the boat while she was exposed defending against any terrorists who no doubt would be hot on their tail. He was in luck as he saw her nod.
"Yeah," Rachel replied, "Never been on this particular model but I've been on a number of similar boats. I'm sure I can manage. I'm guessing we're sticking with the original extract zone past the mouth of the harbor?" She had driven her uncle's boat in the Chesapeake Bay during her summer in Maryland, and had also rented boats with friends in Israel for deep sea fishing off Tel Aviv which was cheaper and more flexible than going with a charter.
"You got it, Rachel. Just keep her as close to the middle of the channel as you can in case there are shallow spots." It wasn't as if Gaza had buoys to guide the boaters who relied solely on nautical charts.
"The hostiles are closing in! They're right by those fishing boats over there, looks like they're going to try to cut off our escape that way." Rachel said, pointing to the dock as she got behind the wheel and navigated the vessel away from land.
Jack hurled a hand grenade over the area of water to the other dock, timing it so that the grenade exploded in midair with the crouched Hamas fighters given no warning like they would have if the grenade had landed on the ground. Several men were blown sideways out of their hiding places while two more terrorists ran around ablaze, one of them jumping into the water to put out the flames on his clothing while the other was shot and killed by more approaching terrorists on the gangway to make his death quicker. Jack saw another terrorist take position at the end of the gangway. The terrorist's bullets impacted close to Jack's feet.
At that moment, the speedboat's engines rumbled loudly and began pulling away into the harbor. Jack flattened himself on the deck of the powerboat as bullets from the Hamas gunmen on the gangway whizzed by him, impacting on the leather seats of the small pleasure craft. Jack aimed carefully even as the boat wobbled, kicking up a huge wake. Jack's aim was perfect and saw the terrorist drop to the ground.
PORT OF GAZA
At the same time, Mahmoud and more of the terrorists were driving through the pitiful looking industrial landscape of the port area. Gaza certainly wasn't one of the world's great port cities, not by any stretch of the imagination. His phone buzzed again and saw that it was one of the Palestinian policemen sent to check on the Qissariya Market.
"Yes, what happened, Sergeant Mekkoui?" Mahmoud asked.
"Jack Bauer got away, we are…." Mekkoui started stammering. He feared how his Hamas overlords would respond to the news of Nakkash's death and its circumstances.
"I am after him now! What about our hideout, Nakkash and our men?"
"They are all dead, Nakkash, all of them. We killed one of them, the treasonous Crusader who goes by Minaj but they killed many of us!"
"Minaj?" Mahmoud's eyes flashed with hate. "I know that Christian dog! I am not surprised to hear he is working with the American imperialists. We should have killed him years ago! We should have killed all of them!"
"Also, Nakkash is dead, mujahid! I am sorry to tell you this, please forgive me," Mekkoui stammered, "These infidels are truly monsters, Mahmoud! They….they trapped Nakkash and burned him alive with propane!"
Mahmoud seethed with murderous rage. "Believe me, I will find Jack Bauer, and I will personally remove the skin from his body before I kill him. It will be given to Nakkash's wives as a trophy." He hung up and visited the Al-Jazeera website on his cell phone. The headlines still dealt with the fighting in Gaza. The nuclear warheads would have reached their targets by now and let there was nothing. He then checked local section for the Qatar-based news agency and saw a story about how the military had cordoned off an area of the desert where a satellite had crashed. He knew it must be a cover story. Jack Bauer had disabled the nukes and caused their to self-destruct and crash.
Mahmoud's vehicle screeched to a halt after speeding through the rusting, unpainted gates of the Sinbad Marina. He jumped out of the car before his driver could come around and immediately ran to the gangway where he saw several dead terrorists scattered around, one with severe burns climbing out of the water and another terrorist coming back up to the dirt parking lot. Two boats and part of the dock were burning from the fire ignited by Jack's hand grenade.
"Akhtar! What in the Prophet's name happened here?" demanded Mahmoud, addressing the terrorist he knew by name as he looked at the area in shock. This was the Hamas field commander Jack had seen earlier. "Where is Jack Bauer?" Mahmoud looked nervously up at the sky as the sound of fighter jets roared overhead again.
Akhtar pointed to the powerboat picking up speed as it departed the marina toward the wide watery expanse of Gaza Harbor. "He is making a run for the open sea. The Americans must be planning to extract them from there!" he said excitedly.
"Come with me!" Mahmoud shouted , pulling Akhtar and two more terrorists into the military jeep then nudged the driver, pointing to a nearby section of the dock filled with motorized fishing boats and some cabin cruisers. "Get us over there! Yallah! Yallah! Tell our men to head straight to that dock and take their boats! We must not let the infidels escape!" The rage burned deeply inside Mahmoud as he thought of Nakkash burned alive by the infidels. His hatred was only compounded by the sounds of the jets overhead and the knowledge that at least three dozen Hamas fighters had been lost in the airstrikes on the two buildings alone, especially in the convoy that was pulling up to the port authority as the missile made a direct hit right on top of them.
AIRBORNE OVER GAZA
The F-15Es took out several of the terrorist positions in central Gaza City that had been firing on them and turned back toward the port area. The pilots picked up speed as they roared above Gaza's coastal Rimal neighborhood .
"We're coming up on the seawall," the flight leader radioed back to base. The best angle of attack came from back over the sea and the jets made another sharp turn. They focused their fire at the area where the seawall began jutting out from the natural coastline in an arc. They dropped several payloads of cluster munitions as they flew along the seawall, following the Hamas contingent driving on the dirt path on top of it. The force of the explosion not only hurled several of the terrorist vehicles off the road, it caused part of the seawall to collapse into the ocean. One vehicle after another exploded in flames as the cluster bombs showered the area. Terrorists ran around screaming as their bodies burned, pleading in vain to Allah for mercy that would never come.
By now there were only three armed jeeps, the vanguard of the Hamas force that attempted to break Jack's escape at the entrance to the harbor, surviving, and the pilots were ordered to turn back before they were already too close to the entrance. The explosive force and the tidal wave it would generate, especially if that part of the seawall also collapsed, could sink Jack's speedboat and neither their commanders in Incirlik nor Henderson wanted to take that risk. Henderson and the soldiers on the Black Hawk and the Apache gunship would have to engage the terrorists left on the seawall and the Palestinian gunboats on his own. The life of Henderson's future star recruit depended on it. Henderson knew he would do whatever he needed to save Jack, even if it meant sacrificing some of these men's lives. Jack was too important, and he had proven as much. When the war on terror continued, Jack would be an instrumental weapon in Henderson's arsenal whether the higher ups realized it at the moment or not. And for this reason, Henderson would risk anything to get him back.
The wide expanse of the open sky and sea as the speedboat accelerated out of the Sinbad Marina and into the waters of Gaza Harbor was a sudden and jarring contrast to the urban clutter of Gaza City. Yet Jack knew they were still not out of the woods yet despite the effective demonstration of American air power. To their left was the arc of the shoreline while to the right, Jack saw three more powerboats including a powerful cabin cruiser sailing in their direction. Living on the California coast, Jack had his share of boating experiences with his friends, even if his father considered powerboats not classy enough and preferred sailboats and yachts instead. Jack recognized the sleek speedboat they had commandeered. They could eventually outrun the pursuing terrorists in a fair race. However because Mahmoud and his men were coming at an angle, they had a temporary advantage.
Jack went over to the helm where Rachel was driving the boat quite steadily toward where the harbor exited into the open ocean. "This boat maxes out at a higher speed than theirs, but there will be a few minutes where we'll be within their firing range based on the direction they're coming from," Jack told her. "So we need to brace ourselves. Focus on operating the boat and I'm going to keep those bastards at bay. We have enough automatic rounds and rockets to do the job."
"It's alright, Jack. We've made it this far. We're going to make it, right?" Rachel asked. The fear was becoming visible on her face. Everything she had seen and experienced was definitely pushing her to the edge of sanity, and she didn't know how much more she could take. So many times she had thought it was about over, and yet it all kept on coming.
Jack wrapped his arms around her and pointed straight. "Just focus on the ocean ahead," he told her. "Once we're clear of the promontory we're home free. Our people will be waiting for us on the other side. Maybe even before that if they can suppress the antiaircraft fire. It ends here, Rachel. I promise you that."
Jack called Henderson again on his phone as the speedboat raced across the calm protected waters of the harbor. "Sir, we're on a boat heading to the rendezvous point," Jack updated him.
"We'll be entering Gazan airspace shortly," Henderson said, "Our ETA is approximately ten minutes."
"Roger that. Please hurry, sir. We are being pursued by hostiles in three boats."
"We acknowledge, Bauer," said Henderson, "We may be coming in hot too. Air Force pilots saw another convoy approaching the seawall and two police gunboats streaming north out of their base at Al-Shati which was just taken out. I'm hoping we can avoid a confrontation on the high seas."
Jack saw the hostile boats closing in. "Shit!" he cursed. "Sir I have to go now. We have company coming here fast!"
Jack could already hear the rabid screaming of the terrorists in the first boat and he rushed back toward the covered section of the speedboat, tripping over something and losing his balance. Jack grunted as he fell to the ground next to Rachel who looked at him with a concerned expression.
"You alright, Jack?" she asked, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
"Yeah," Jack said, opening up the case for the Javelin antitank missile he had managed to bring from the car. He knew he only had only two missiles and had to make them count. Jack loaded the first missile into the tube and went back to the back of the vessel, aiming at the closest pursuers. Just as Jack fired the missile, however, the boat hit a sudden wave and lurched forward. The missile left the tube and flew back from the boat but impacted in the water, creating a large fountain that sprayed water high into the air which rained down on the first terrorist boat but did nothing to slow it down. Jack then realized that the water was growing increasingly choppier as they approached the mouth of the harbor and felt the impact of the ocean currents.
"Dammit!" Jack cursed. He was down to one warhead, and there were three boats pursuing. He loaded the second missile into the Javelin and went back again. This time, he crawled and lay stomach first and aimed at a lower position on the pursuing powerboat so that even if they hit another wave, the missile would still hit its target. Jack aimed again and fired, the Javelin rapidly closing the distance between itself and the lead terrorist boat. For a moment, Jack's boat skipped on another wave and he lost sight of the smoke trail, but saw a large explosion as the Javelin tore through the hull of the first boat and detonated. Several secondary explosions followed as the vessel's gas tanks caught fire and blew up as well, sending the bodies of several terrorists sailing through the air along with pieces of plastic and metal.
From the third boat, the cabin cruiser, Mahmoud saw the explosion and gasped. He immediately steered his boat to the right as the terrorists on the deck all took cover as some pieces of the wreckage rained down on them. The other terrorist speedboat was less fortunate. It also swerved to avoid the explosion but the terrorist at the controls turned too sharply and the boat capsized, flinging its occupants into the water. Jack had no time to celebrate as the cabin cruiser came forward. Rachel had the speedboat on full throttle but it would still be at least a minute until they were out of range of the cabin cruiser commandeered by Mahmoud Al-Harazi.
"Akhtar! All of you, get up!" Mahmoud barked his orders at his men who got up from their cowering positions. "Focus all of your fire on them! Disable that boat and kill them!"
The other terrorists acknowledged their orders and took up positions. Jack cursed to himself again as he saw the hostiles all gunning for him. One terrorist leaned off the side of the cabin cruiser, Jack easily seeing the muzzle flashing as he opened up with an AK-47, thankfully missing the speedboat. Jack fired back moving from one target to the next but the bullets all went wide. He reloaded and fired again. Jack didn't see the bullets impact, but saw the terrorist who was leaning out the side of the cabin cruiser fall into the water. Jack aimed at the terrorist stationed at the top of the hostile vessel and fired. No bullets came out.
Jack saw that his gun had jammed and desperately tried to replace the magazine. A barrage of punishing gunfire came from the cabin cruiser. Jack saw that it was Akhtar, the field commander, firing. Rachel looked back and saw Akhtar's bullets impacting the plastic surface of the speedboat all around Jack. By now all the leather seats had also been shot to pieces. Rachel made sure the boat was aimed straight and placed a heavy box she found onto the foot throttle, propelling the watercraft forward on its own and heading back to Jack. Rachel slid along the ground with her Uzi slung over her shoulder and opened up on the hostiles. The terrorist next to Mahmoud took a full round through the face, his body tumbling to the ground next to his leader.
Akhtar, who was on the top deck of the cruiser, now focused his attention on Rachel and prepared to fire. At that moment, though, Jack finished reloading and aimed at him, firing a long burst with his M-16. Akhtar's head disappeared in a puff of fine red mist. Mahmoud heard the thud above him as Akhtar's body and gun fell to the deck and took his assault rifle and fired through the window, but by now he was out of range and watched helplessly as Jack and Rachel's speedboat pulled away.
As Jack looked up, though, he saw that they had yet to clear the biggest obstacle to their safety and freedom. Instead of open water at the mouth of the harbor, he saw the first of the two Palestinian gunboats closing off their access to the sea from the left. To the right, they saw the dust from a group of Hamas forces speeding along the seawall, which also ended at the entrance to the ocean. Behind, Mahmoud's boat with several surviving gunmen on board continued its pursuit. With the sea access blocked off in front of them and Mahmoud's cabin cruiser behind, they were about to be trapped.