Gaza City—>Two small bodies lie on the metal table inside the morgue at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. Omama is 9 years old. Her right forearm is mangled and charred and the top half of her skull has been smashed in. Beside her lies her 7-year-old brother. His name is not certain. It might be Hamza or it might be Khalil. Relatives are having trouble identifying him because his head has been shorn off. Their parents will not mourn them—because they are dead too.
All of them were killed in Shejaiya, one of Gaza’s poorest and most crowded neighborhoods, which came under a brutal and sustained assault by the Israeli military today.
“They dropped shells on our heads,” says Lotfy al-Banna, a resident from the neighborhood who fled early Sunday morning. “Everything is burnt down.”
It marked the bloodiest day in a blood-soaked conflict. Nearly ninety people were killed, sixty of them in Shejaiya alone, bringing the death toll in Gaza since the assault began to 425, 112 of them children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 3,000 people have been injured.
Thick black smoke billowed up from Shejaiya throughout the day, darkening the sky. Falling bombs could be heard every few seconds. Drones buzzed overhead, and the occasional crackle of machine gun fire rang out.
The attack began around 9 pm and lasted well into late afternoon the following day. Tanks and artillery rained barrage after barrage of shells on the neighborhood, firing indiscriminately, according to multiple residents. Missiles slammed into apartment blocks. Ambulances could not get in. People say they waited for hours yet no one came to help. They say they were too afraid to put their heads out of the window to see what was happening around them. Some bled to death in their homes.
The streets of Shejaiya were strewn with the dead.
“I saw eight people lying dead on the ground, thee children and five elderly men” says Ayman, a resident who was evacuating his family to safety. Ilham Abu Qubos, another resident, says she witnessed similar scenes. “Death is everywhere in the streets.”
Some ambulances did eventually brave the shelling to try and rescue people. But one took a direct hit, killing the paramedic inside. A TV correspondent was also killed in Shejaiya. (A day earlier the Israeli government’s press office sent an email warning that Hamas “has frequently exploited journalists as human shields” and confirming that “Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting.”)
Eighty-year-old Said Abu Gomez said he decided to evacuate after his neighbor’s house was destroyed. Leaning heavily on his cane he shuffled through the streets, aided by his son, who attached a white flag to a long pole and held it aloft as they tried to make their way to safety. “This is the third time they do this to us,” he said.
By 10 am on Sunday the few residents left in the neighborhood were streaming out. Women carrying small children scrambled onto trucks and pushed their way into passing cars in panic to try to get away. A scene of chaos and terror.
The people fleeing the Israeli onslaught brought little of their belongings with them. Some were barefoot. Some carried a blanket or pillow. Most carried nothing at all. The United Nations refugee agency says the number of displaced is now at 81,000. Earlier on Sunday the number was 63,000.