Fear And Loathing In Gaza As Offensive Continues

Five people were killed Saturday morning in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah, Palestinian sources said. Earlier, during an aerial attack Friday night, six Palestinians including one civilian were killed, a top source at the Health Ministry in Gaza claimed.

From the outset of Operation Pillar of Defense to Saturday morning, 37 Palestinians have died of whom at least 10 were civilians; Palestinian sources count 17 civilian deaths. Dozens more have been wounded.

Red Cross sources in Gaza say several medical centers, including the emergency facility in Jabaliya, suffered collateral damage from the strikes.

People living in the northern and eastern parts of the Gaza Strip began to flee their homes as of Friday as heavy fighting raged nearby. Talking with Haaretz, some described ceaseless attacks from sea, land and air only a few yards from them, "shaking the ground and the walls."

Among the people who fled are the Samouni family, who live in the eastern part of the Gaza neighborhood Zeitoun. During Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-09, 21 members of the Samouni family were killed when commander of the Givati Brigade, Ilan Malka, ordered their home bombed. Based on photos from an unmanned drone, Malka concluded the building was sheltering armed Palestinians. One of the Samouni women says she and her children are now reliving the trauma of 2009.

The strike on the Hamas government Saturday morning was also watched warily by neighbors. On Thursday, a man living in the area told Haaretz that people were expecting Israeli jets to bomb the symbol of Hamas civil rule. In 2008 the government buildings were in the southern Gaza neighborhood Tel el-Hawa, and were destroyed in a series of strikes. About three to four months later, the government moved to a building in the northern Gaza neighborhood of Nasser.

"It was a very difficult night," S. told Haaretz. "The bombing didn't stop. At about five, I was preparing for prayer, when I heard an explosion nearby and figured it was the government building." Two hours later, he says, the Israel Air Force bombed another target on the IDF's list – the soccer stadium in Palestine Square. Less than 200 yards from a mosque that was packed at the time. S.'s 13-year-old son relates: "I was sleeping. The noise woke me up." The shockwave warped the neighbors' doors, he said. "We leave the windows open, so the glass didn't break, but the neighbors' windows broke. Shockwaves caused bricks to fall on cars and damaged them. One of them dented our car."

Everybody he knows felt heartened by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's visit to Gaza, says S.: It made them more resilient. "Today the Tunisian foreign minister came and tomorrow other delegations will be coming form Egypt. When I watch Israeli television, I feel they don't understand the change that Egypt and Tunisia have undergone. They're still thinking in terms of despots dependent on the United States, and don't realize that the opinion of the Egyptian people plays an important role in Egyptian policy."

A number of medical centers were damaged during the fighting of the last three days, the organization Physicians for Human Rights said in a press release. Dr. Bashar Murad, director of the Red Crescent's Gaza emergency and rescue services, told the organization there were no direct strikes on emergency services or their centers. But some were close enough to strikes to have suffered severe damage, mainly in the open areas of the south such as the emergency center in Jabalya. It was hit by large, sharp shards and rubble, some weighing as much as ten pounds, he says: "We received no notice or request to evacuate before the attack."

Medical facilities in the Tel el-Hawa district were damaged, Murad says, including the al-Quds Hospital. "Most of the windows were shattered. Some of the roofs collapsed or were damaged from the shock of the bombings (not direct hits). The Jabalya emergency and rescue center was damaged." The patients are afraid in the very place they're supposed to feel cared for, he says.

"The damage to infrastructure, such as the roads, creates obstacles and delays in reaching the wounded. Sometimes roads are blocked by a bomb crater, or rubble from destroyed houses and ambulances can't get through," Murad says. "The paramedics have to go on foot and carry the injured risking their own lives, and naturally get to the injured later at a time when every minute can be the difference between life and death."

"One of the biggest dangers is when a place is bombed for a second time, when medical teams are already on their way," he continues. "There have been cases where the same place was bombed twice, with a few minutes to half an hour or an hour in between, which endangers rescue teams."

According to Palestinian health authorities, as of Saturday morning 13 civilians, six of which were children, had been killed since the start of the offensive. 37 have died since the campaign began, and as of Friday afternoon, the count of wounded had reached 257, of whom 253 are civilians, including 62 children and 42 women.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, two children were killed on Thursday night in the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza, after a strike near their home: Udai Nasser, 15, and Fares el-Basiyuni, 8.

Earlier Thursday evening, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, Marwan al-Komsan, 52, a teacher employed by the United Nations refugee agency, was killed while visiting his brother. A mortar shell or explosive fell in a field near the brother’s home, seriously injuring the brother, who is 72.

In Zeitoun, a 10-month-old girl, Hanan Tafesh, died Thursday night of head injuries sustained in a strike the day before. Her mother and two others were wounded.

Camel Makat, 23, died Friday morning of a heart attack after a fighter jet bombed a field near his home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in northwestern Gaza City. On Friday evening 2-year-old Walid al-Abdullah died of his injuries sustained the day before in a strike on the village of al-Kara, east of Khan Yunis.

In Israeli strikes on Zeitoun Wednesday, a 3-year-old girl, Ranin Arafat, was killed along with an 11-month-old boy, Amar Masharawi, and a pregnant 19-year-old woman, Hiba Masharawi-Turk. Also on Wednesday, a 61-year-old man, Mahmoud Hmad, was killed in a field in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

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