When Israeli bombs started raining in Gaza, Najla Shawa, a Palestinian aid worker, devised a game to entertain her terrified daughters, aged six and four.
“We snuggle in the hallway and I hug them and together we count the explosions out loud,” she said from her home in the war-torn strip between Israel, Egypt and the United Kingdom. Mediterranean Sea. “During the first round of shelling, they screamed and screamed, and the elder started complaining of chest pain. She couldn’t sit or eat because of the fear and tension in her body.
Trapped in the narrow coastal territory, its sealed borders, Gaza’s civilian population – some 2 million people, most of them refugees from previous wars – has nowhere to flee. Israel shelled the enclave with fighter jets, warships and tanks, while Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, fired thousands of crude rockets at the Jewish state, although the most were intercepted by the Israeli air defense system.
As of Sunday in Gaza, 192 people were killed, including 92 women and children, according to Palestinian health officials. The IDF said at least 75 were Hamas militants, but did not provide evidence. So far, 10 people have been killed inside Israel, including two children and a soldier.
The death toll in Gaza is expected to rise, with many still trapped under the rubble. On Sunday morning alone, Israeli airstrikes killed 42 people and collapsed several buildings. Rescuers, using their hands and crude crowbars, struggled to pull the injured out of the twisted metal and heavy concrete, a witness said.
The shortage of ambulances and airstrikes on nearby roads have forced some survivors to carry their young children for medical help. A resident of a building, who asked not to be named, said he was not given any warning to evacuate before he was hit.
Israel insists it targets militant positions and accused Hamas of hiding behind Palestinian civilians. But his army is deploying a higher pace and intensity of airstrikes against a wider range of targets than in previous campaigns, as part of a new military strategy called the “victory doctrine”. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus of the Israel Defense Forces said an hour-long operation Thursday evening involved 160 planes.
The IDF said residential buildings that were destroyed on Sunday collapsed after airstrikes destroyed a network of Hamas tunnels nearby, damaging their foundations.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world and, although Hamas fighters can retreat into the tunnels – dug by the group under major Gaza towns, cities and refugee camps to help escape attacks air and facilitate communication – civilians have few places to hide. .
One Palestinian described how the building in which his extended family of 30 lived swung from side to side as Israeli shells fell nearby. They fled at dawn on Friday after a nearby house was hit.
“I later learned from neighbors that an entire family, a father, a mother and four children had been buried under the rubble,” he said.
More than 10,000 people have sought refuge in schools run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. Among them, Ahmed Arafat, a farmer from Beit Hanoun in northeast Gaza, said he fled with his wife, mother and five children on Friday morning to escape bombardment from Israeli tanks. During the 2014 seven-week war – the last major conflict between Israel and Hamas – his family spent a month in a similar shelter. “I don’t know when it will end this time,” he added. “But I’m afraid it will take a long time.”
The Gaza Strip – often referred to as an open-air prison by human rights groups – has been blocked by Israel and Egypt since 2007, when Hamas ousted Fatah, the political faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. With trade and access to the outside world severely limited, Gaza’s exhausted and impoverished population had already seen their infrastructure collapse and their standard of living plummeting before the latest fighting broke out.
“Every two years there is a massive conflict in Gaza that makes it even more desperate and destitute than before due to the ongoing blockade,” Tamara al-Rifai told UNRWA. “Now, the health infrastructure which is already weak must also fight against Covid-19.”
Electricity and fresh water supplies, already intermittent in normal times, are in crisis because fuel is no longer coming in. Gaza’s only power plant would run out of fuel by Monday unless a cease-fire was negotiated to allow resupply, an Israeli official said.
Ashraf al-Qudra, at the Gaza health ministry, said he expected the fuel to run hospital generators to run out in less than a week, adding to the pressure on health workers. facilities already facing a flood of injured civilians. More than 1,200 people were injured.
“We treat second and third degree burns, people with broken limbs and others suffering from suffocation from toxic fumes,” he added. “The injuries range from dangerous to fatal and require surgeries that we cannot perform in Gaza. We need the crossings to Israel to be open as they provide a lifeline for needed medicine, hospital supplies, food and fuel for generators.
Hamas, an Islamist movement, rules Gaza with an iron fist, but there is no evidence yet that the Palestinians blame the group for the latest suffering. Abbas, the Palestinian president, called off elections scheduled for last month in a move widely seen as motivated by fears Hamas would win.
Shawa said her family watched black smoke spread across the Gaza skyline. Her husband had only left their house by the sea in western Gaza once since the shelling began to earn bread. Describing the state of mind of the territory after years of blockade, she said: “People feel they have nothing to lose and are fed up with this great injustice.”