Israeli airstrikes kill dozensIsrael’s three-day aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip has killed dozens of civilians, along with Hamas fighters, and has paralyzed life in a territory already battered by blackouts and supply shortages during 18 months of border closures.
By Ibrahim Barzak
and Diaa Hadid
The Associated Press
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel’s three-day aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip has killed dozens of civilians, along with Hamas fighters, and has paralyzed life in a territory already battered by blackouts and supply shortages during 18 months of border closures.
Israel has stressed that most of the deaths and injuries were Hamas fighters and says it’s careful to avoid harm to bystanders. But the nonstop attacks have caused widespread power outages, terrified residents and left aid agencies unable to feed thousands of needy people.
By Monday, the death toll rose to 364, with some 1,400 reported wounded, according to Palestinian medical officials.
The United Nations reported that at least 62 of the dead were women and children, and medics said eight children under the age of 17 were killed in overnight strikes.
Israel launched its campaign, the deadliest against Palestinians in decades, on Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.
Israel, which has also allowed limited humanitarian supplies into the territory, is attacking Hamas-run organizations, homes of activists and security posts — all scattered in densely populated areas. Gazans say most strikes come without warning.
However, Israeli forces offered a general warning by dropping leaflets and recording brief announcements that interrupt radio broadcasts. They also reached other homes by telephone, telling Gaza residents to flee their homes if they were hiding weapons or militants.
“Civilian casualties are almost impossible to avoid, and that’s particularly true when so many locations are being targeted,” said U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes. He said there were also male civilian deaths, but the U.N. has not been able to determine how many.
The U.N. said Sunday that one Palestinian U.N. employee and eight trainees were also among the dead.
“We don’t know where they’ll shell next,” said medic Mohammed Azayzeh, 27. His family lives near a Hamas institution that residents fear will be bombed, but they aren’t budging — because they don’t know if the next place they will flee to will be any safer.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again condemned what he called Israel’s excessive use of force and urged an immediate cease-fire.
“The frightening nature of what is happening on the ground, in particular its effects on children — who are more than half of the population — troubles me greatly,” he said.
Throughout Gaza, 16-hour blackouts are common because Israel provides only limited amounts of fuel and power into the area — part of its 18-month campaign to pressure Gaza’s militant rulers Hamas into halting rocket barrages at Israel from the territory.
In some areas, the shelling damaged electrical cables, throwing whole areas into darkness, including an upscale Gaza City neighborhood.
Without electricity, people don’t have light or water, and sewage does not get treated, said Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which helps Palestinian refugees.
Most people have electricity only for a few hours a day and water “only every other day, or every few days,” she said.
U.N. officials warned if there is no fuel for the power plant, then fuel supplies for hospital generators will also run out.
During the bombardment, residents avoided heading into markets, and most traders kept their shops shuttered, making it unclear if there were shortages of food or other supplies through the territory.
On Sunday, Israeli planes bombed the tunnels used to smuggle goods under Gaza’s border with Egypt. Israel has blockaded the territory, making it difficult to obtain items such as chocolate, computers and livestock. Militants also used the passages to smuggle guns.
Residents lined up Monday outside a shop selling flour in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah after receiving a tip that Israel allowed in more supplies. Most residents bake their own bread, and flour was in short supply for weeks before the bombardment.
Holmes said as much as 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people “are more or less dependent on food aid from the outside.”
The U.N. halted food distribution to 800,000 Gazans on Dec. 18 because a tightened border closure prevented many goods from reaching the territory. Since the airstrikes began, Israel allowed in almost 100 trucks carrying humanitarian aid, but the U.N. says it’s not enough to resume distribution.
On the streets of Gaza, dust from bombed-out buildings lingers, and neighborhoods are mostly empty except for people fleeing their homes and motorists driving the wounded and dead to hospitals. In recently shelled areas, the smell of gunpowder and blood hangs heavily in the air.
Hospitals are the few hives of activity.
The World Health Organization reported early Sunday that since the airstrikes began, around 900 people have been sent to Gaza hospitals, and more than 100 people remained in critical condition.
Even before the strikes, Gaza’s hospitals were operating with precariously low levels of drugs and shoddy equipment.
The WHO said it was working to obtain medical gases for operating rooms, surgical kits and other supplies, warning the situation was serious, but appeared under control.
Medics speaking to The Associated Press described 18-hour days and changing out of blood-spattered uniforms without time to shower.
Hundreds of people fled their homes in the border area after the tunnel bombings, residents said.
Majda Abu Taha, 29, left her home in the Brazil refugee camp close to Gaza’s border with Egypt on Sunday afternoon, a full day after Israel shelled nearby tunnels. She took her three children and a dozen members of her extended family to her sister’s home in Rafah, about a half-mile from the border.
Abu Taha wavered for a day as her neighbors fled. Her sister’s house was already full of relatives, and Abu Taha wasn’t sure her sister could take on even more. But she made up her mind after planes dropped leaflets from the Israeli army warning that the tunnels would be bombed again.
Abu Taha said she did not have a tunnel opening in her home — unlike many residents in the area. But she feared her cinderblock house would collapse on her family. She fled to her sister’s home, where refugees lined the floor with mattresses to accommodate the dozens of people sleeping there.
“When the bombings happened (on Sunday) it was like a giant grabbed my house and shook it. If they shell any closer, we’ll all die,” Abu Taha said.