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Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
20 Jul 2014 11:11
At least 40 Palestinians were killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in a Gaza neighbourhood, where bodies were strewn in the street and thousands fled toward
a hospital packed with wounded, witnesses and health officials said.
The mass casualties in the Shejaia district in north-east Gaza were the
heaviest since Israel launched its offensive on the Palestinian territory on
July 8 after cross-border rocket strikes by militants intensified.
Anguished cries of “Did you see Ahmed?” “Did you see my
wife?” echoed through the courtyard of Gaza’s Shifa hospital, where
panicked residents of Shejaia gathered in family groups, while inside bodies
and wounded lay on blood-stained floors.
Video given to Reuters by a local showed at least a dozen mangled corpses,
including three children, lying in the rubble-filled streets.
At the hospital, about 3km, elderly men said the Israeli attack was the
fiercest they had seen since the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured Gaza.
“Forty martyrs have been counted so far ... medics are searching for
possibly more casualties,” Naser Tattar, Shifa hospital’s director, told
He said some 400 people were wounded in the Israeli attack.
Thousands fled Shejaia, some by foot and others piling into the backs of
trucks and sitting on the hoods of cars filled with families trying to get
Asked about the attack, an Israeli military spokesperson said: “Two
days ago, residents of Shejaia received recorded messages to evacuate the area
in order to protect their lives.”
There were no signs of a diplomatic breakthrough toward a ceasefire, and
militants kept up their rocket fire on Israel.
Hamas, the dominant armed group in the Gaza Strip, had urged people across
the territory not to heed the Israeli warnings and abandon their homes.
As the tank shells began to land, Shejaia residents called radio stations
pleading for evacuation. An air strike on the Shejaia home of Khalil al-Hayya,
a senior Hamas official, killed his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren,
hospital officials said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned “the new massacre
committed by the Israeli government in Shejaia”, a spokesperson for the
Western-backed leader said.
Israel, which has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields by
launching rockets from residential areas, sent ground forces into the Gaza
Strip on Thursday after 10 days of air, naval and artillery barrages failed to
stop the salvoes.
The military said it beefed up its presence on Sunday, with a focus on
destroying missile stockpiles and a vast tunnel system Hamas built along the
frontier that crosses into Israel.
Gaza’s Health Ministry officials said at least 370 Palestinians, many of
them civilians, have been killed in the 13-day conflict and about 2 600 have
been wounded. On Israel’s side, two civilians were killed by cross-border fire
and five soldiers died as fighting occurred at close quarters.
The United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) said more than 63 000
people have now sought sanctuary in 55 of its shelters, mostly schools, in Gaza.
The army said that since the start of the ground offensive three days ago,
it had killed more than 70 militants and that troops had discovered five
tunnels running under the border. It said that since July 8, it had attacked 2 570
targets, describing them as “terror sites”.
Diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire involving, among others, Egypt, Qatar,
France and the United Nations, have failed to make headway.
Qatar was due to host a meeting between Abbas and UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon on Sunday, a senior Qatari source told Reuters. Ban was due during the
week to travel to Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan,
a UN statement said.
The Qatari source said Abbas was also due to meet Hamas leader Khaled
Abbas in April struck a deal with Islamist Hamas that led to
the formation of a Palestinian unity government, seven years after the group
seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah party in a brief civil war.
Hamas has rejected Egyptian efforts to end fighting, saying any deal must
include an end to a blockade of the coastal area and a recommitment to a
ceasefire reached after an eight-day war in Gaza in 2012.
Egypt said on Saturday it had no plans to revise its ceasefire proposal. A Hamas
source in Doha said the group has no plans to change its conditions for a
Hostilities between the two sides escalated following the killing last month
of three Jewish students that Israel blames on Hamas. Hamas neither confirmed
nor denied involvement.
The apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, for which Israel
has charged three Israelis, further fuelled tension.
Israel says more than 1 700 rockets have been fired out of Gaza during this
month’s fighting, and between 3 000 and 4 000 destroyed in military strikes -
together almost half of the militants’ original estimated arsenal.
Hamas says it is continuously replenishing its stock of weapons and is ready
for a prolonged conflict.
The Israeli death toll has been kept low due to the rockets’ relative
inaccuracy, a network of air-raid sirens and shelters and the Iron Dome rocket
interceptor’s 90% success rate.
The Israeli military urged Palestinians to flee a growing area of Gaza ahead
of further military action in the Mediterranean enclave. Residents say about
half of the territory’s 1.8-million population have been told to move.
With the Israeli and Egyptian borders sealed off, Gazans say they have few
places to escape to. - Reuters
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