A Palestinian family huddles together in Gaza City

As the assault on Hamas intensifies, 20 relatives try to find some calm in a three-bedroom apartment.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
The Wait for Bread: Gazans lined up outside a bakery Monday as Israel continued its ground assault against Hamas militants.
Suhaib Salem/Reuters
Palestinians seek refuge in a Gazan hospital as the death toll rises to more than 500.

The Israeli drones are driving me crazy. I go outside only to buy food, water, and medicine, or to recharge my cellphone at a nearby mosque that is powered by generators. Inside my Gaza City apartment, electricity and phone lines are out. Heat is a luxury. We sleep with the windows open in case an Israeli shell lands nearby, which would shatter the glass.

All around Gaza City, this coastal strip's largest urban area, fighting has intensified since Israel launched its ground invasion Saturday. So far, even though more than 530 Gazans have been killed and 2,000 wounded in the conflict, support for Hamas does not appear to be weakening.

At the long bread lines, customers listen to their transistor radios while they wait. When they hear of a Hamas missile striking Israel, cheering begins. Others lash out at Arab states because of their alleged cooperation with Israel, some trade stories about the wounded, the dead, and worsening life for Gazans since the start of the assault, now in its 10th day.

Many Gazans see no end in sight and say that unless there are high numbers of Israeli casualties, nothing will change despite the increasing calls for a cease-fire. They say: If the Palestinians are the only ones dying, no one will care.

The sound of fighting could be heard throughout the city Monday even as those efforts to forge a diplomatic solution moved ahead across the border in Israel. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Middle East special envoy Tony Blair called for a cease-fire and Hamas is sending a delegation to Egypt for talks.

But Israel has been steadfast in its resolve. On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: "Hamas has so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective, and therefore the operation continues."

Since Saturday, when troops crossed the border, more than 20 family members – an aunt, uncle, four cousins, and their families – have been sharing our three bedroom apartment.

My cousin Anas reached our house following the invasion.

"Where is all the rest of the family?" I asked him after he entered, referring to my uncle and the rest of his kids. Anas responded that they tried to flee, but the situation was too difficult. Only after two hours did my uncle, Abu Khaled, reach my house with four of his five children.

He was in the same situation as dozens of families living east of Jabaliya, a refugee camp outside Gaza City where fighting has been heavy.

"I was forced to leave the house that I worked 30 years for," Abu Khaled told me. "I took my clothes and underwear and ID cards so I could be identified if killed in one of the explosions."

The moment Abu Khaled reached my house, he entered one of the rooms and immediately fell asleep. When he woke, he told me what he had been through. "I didn't sleep for 48 hours because of the continuing shelling. Once the tanks came over the eastern border, the explosives began falling from all directions."

His wife added: "This time is the worst of all. The Israeli army is shelling mosques and ambulances without any sort of care. So we decided to flee and leave all of our possessions behind."

The Israeli army entered Gaza by what used to be the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, before Israel pulled out of the strip three years ago. The Israeli assault has essentially split the strip in two and surrounded Gaza City.

Monday, Israel hit at least 30 targets, Reuters reported, and bombed homes of Hamas members. At least three children were killed Monday when their home was struck.

On Sunday, the grocery story was full of people. I asked one person why he was buying lentils and fava beans. He looked at me as if I were from a foreign country.

"You don't know that there's nothing else to buy except for fava and lentils? I bought five kilos of each type, hoping that the crisis would finish before the supplies ran out."

Much of Gaza's supply of fruits and vegetables has been destroyed by Israeli rockets.

Since the beginning of the assault, on Dec. 27, the streets here have largely been empty except for funerals, mourning tents, ambulances that rush to every bombing, and Palestinian press cars heading toward the scene of Israeli attacks.

One night, a cellphone call woke me up. It was my friend Abu Ahmed and he was very afraid.

He said that his wife had gotten a call on her cellphone and that it was a recorded message by the Israeli intelligence.

It said: "To the civilians of Gaza, we are warning you not to carry any weapons and have weapons in your home. Otherwise we will bomb your house.... If you deal with terrorists, you will be our target."

Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv provided additional reporting, and material from Reuters was used.

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