DEIR al-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Even the “safe zones” of Gaza aren’t safe for Palestinians.
Intense Israeli strikes Tuesday destroyed homes, hit a U.N. school sheltering the displaced and killed dozens of people in south and central Gaza.
“The situation is very, very difficult with artillery shelling and aerial bombardment on homes and defenseless people,” said Abu Hashem Abu al-Hussein, who initially welcomed displaced families into his home in Khan Younis, but then fled to a U.N. school, where he hoped to find safety himself.
Israel had told Palestinians over the weekend to evacuate northern Gaza and Gaza City in advance of an expected ground invasion of the territory following an attack by Hamas militants last week that killed at least 1,400 Israelis.
An estimated 600,000 people complied, packing what belongings they could and rushing to the south, where they squeezed into overcrowded U.N. shelters, hospitals, and homes in the approximately 14-kilometer (8-mile) long area south of the evacuation zone.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas on Tuesday of preventing people from “getting out of harm’s way,” and he again urged Palestinians to head “south to safe zones”
For some on Tuesday, there was no safety to be had there.
After midnight Tuesday morning, an explosion shattered Moataz al-Zre’e’s windows. He rushed outside to find his neighbor Ibrahim’s entire home had been razed. The house next door was damaged also. At least 12 people from two families were killed, including three people from a family displaced from Gaza City.
“There was no (Israeli) warning,” he said. Al-Zre’e’s sister was gravely wounded and five of his paternal cousins were also injured following the attack. “Most of the killed were women and children.”
Stunned residents took stock of the damage from another strike in Khan Younis. Samiha Zoarab looked around at the destruction in shock, as children rummaged through piles of rubble around the destroyed home, which lies amid a dense cluster of buildings.
At least four people from the same family were killed in the attack, she said. “There are only two survivors,” she said.
A strike hit a U.N. school in central Gaza where 4,000 Palestinians had taken refuge, killing six people, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said.
A barrage leveled a block of homes in the central Gaza Bureij refugee camp, killing many inside, residents said. Among the killed was Ayman Nofal, a top Hamas military commander.
Strikes also hit the cities of Rafah, where 27 were reported killed, and Khan Younis, where 30 were reported killed, according to Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official.
The Israeli military said it was targeting Hamas hideouts, infrastructure and command centers.
The strikes came even as residents struggled with an Israeli blockade that cut off the flow of water, food, fuel and medicine to the area.
The Kuwait Speciality Hospital in the southern city of Rafah has received two orders from the Israeli military to evacuate said staff had just two hours to leave after Sunday’s order, in a video posted to the hospital’s Facebook group. The second came Monday at 10 p.m., as medics worked around the clock to resuscitate patients. “We shall not evacuate,” he said.
The Israeli army did not immediately comment on why it had called for the hospital evacuation.
Apart from the near-constant stream of wounded patients, the hospital was also sheltering hundreds of people inside its halls and surroundings. Israel “has left no red line they did not cross, nor an international convention they did not violate,” said al-Hams. The safety of hospitals, he added, was the last red line left.