Gazans flee border areas, fearing Israeli ground invasion

But even inland areas are no haven as Israeli air strikes continue in Gaza. One strike today killed 11 civilians including six children in an attempt to kill a Hamas commander. 

Eyad Baba/AP
Palestinians stand near the rubble of the building of Attia Abu Inkara, a Hamas militant leader, following an Israeli air strike in Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip, Sunday.

As Israel pounds Gaza with airstrikes for the fifth straight day, residents are increasingly worried that the rockets' reign of terror may give way to an even more deadly Israeli ground invasion. 

Some Gazans who live near the borders of the tiny coastal enclave have left their homes to move toward the center of the strip, in hopes of avoiding the first waves of an anticipated Israeli ground assault. 

Mohamed Tawfiq and his family left their home in the eastern part of Khan Younis, which borders Israel, shortly after a tank shell landed a few meters from his house. "The area was calm until rockets were fired from our neighborhood, then Israeli tanks started to fire their shells hysterically," says Mr. Tawfiq, a car mechanic. 

They fled to his family's house in the heart of Gaza City, further from the border, to avoid a ground invasion they fear is coming. "War is a nightmare. When tanks advance and clash with resistance fighters, you get caught in crossfire and feel that it’s the end and death is definitely coming," he says.

No safe haven

But the house they fled to might not be any safer – it is located in the Tal al Hawa neighborhood, which has been heavily bombarded by Israel since this cycle of violence erupted. Now Tawfiq, his wife, and his four kids are crammed into one room, where they sit on the floor to minimize the risk of being hit by shrapnel that might penetrate the windows. For 1.7 million Gazans, most of whom cannot leave the small territory, there is no safe haven.

At least 66 people have been killed in Gaza, including 18 children, since Israel assassinated the head of Hamas's armed wing in a precision airstrike on Wednesday. Hamas and other militant Palestinian factions responded by launching hundreds of rockets at Israel, killing three people.

Today, Israel targeted Hamas officials with airstrikes. One such attack, aimed at a Hamas operative in his home while he was away, killed six children and three women along with two men. (Of the at least 21 people who were killed in Gaza today, at least nine were children, according to Gaza health officials.)  

At the scene of the deadly air strike, residents and rescue workers hurried to the battered three-story home in an attempt to dig out any survivors, but there were none. Rescue workers used heavy equipment to remove the smashed concrete in the search for members of the Dalu family. They finally found something, a leg of a child. The work resumed as people removed the dust with their hands until they dug out the first child, taking her away with dozens of neighbors chanting "Allahu Akbar, Death to Israel." Israeli drones buzzed overhead, while rescuers unearthed the rest of the family.

Meanwhile, in Beit Lahiya on the northern tip of Gaza, Hossam Kilani and his family left their home. He, his wife, and his three kids packed what they could carry and made their way toward the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, where Israeli bombardment is less intense.

Mr. Kilani decided to leave his home after two children from his neighborhood were killed last night by an Israeli tank shell that hit their room while sleeping.

"My wife has asked me to leave the house since the offensive started, but I convinced her that there is no safe place in Gaza. And dying in our house is better than dying somewhere else," he says. But the thought of losing any of his children quickly changed his mind, he said.

Hospitals overwhelmed, face shortages

As the number of wounded has increased, Gaza's hospitals have been overwhelmed. They were already stretched to the limit before the conflict began, because of Israel's blockade on the territory, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, they face critical shortages of drugs and medical supplies, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. 

Health Minister Mufeed Mukghallati said the increasing number of wounded – more than 550 people – has been a major challenge for the medical personnel in Gaza. WHO said many of those injured have been admitted to hospitals with severe burns, injuries from collapsing buildings, and head injuries.

Amid the airstrikes and overflowing hospitals, residents face another difficulty – finding food. Since the offensive started, only a few food stores and supermarkets have opened their doors. Many markets and shops have remained closed, and only four bakeries are opening in Gaza City.

Crossings with Israel have been shut down, and smugglers using tunnels from Egypt – which have served as a key source of basic goods for the territory since Israel's blockade – stopped working for fear of bombardment.

In Gaza City, people lined up in front of bakeries and stores, trying to stock up on food supplies. "People expect the worst if a ground war starts, so they try to buy as much food as they can," says Tawfiq, as he waited in a long line to buy one pack of bread.

Appreciation for Hamas

Despite the fear of a ground war, some in Gaza hope that the exchange of rocket fire would continue, showing appreciation for Hamas fighters who "brought the occupation to its knees."

"I feel so proud that Hamas is humiliating Israel. Finally Hamas is doing what no Arab country could do, they are shelling Tev Aviv and Jerusalem," says Muahmmed Shurrab, who works as a web developer in Gaza City.

Mr. Shurrab, who does not belong to any political faction, added he is happy that that Palestinians have finally moved from a defensive posture to an offensive one. "We have negotiated with Israel for almost two decades, and negotiations were a big failure. Let's try this new strategy that will for sure oblige Israel to give some concessions," he adds.

Shurrab criticized those who accuse Hamas of bringing war upon Gaza, saying that Israel has occupied Palestine and launched several wars even before the creation of Hamas movement.

But not every Palestinian shares Shurrab's feelings. Mohammed Khamis, an accountant, says it's time to have a mutual ceasefire in Gaza. "We are glad that the resistance has bounded many Israeli cities, but I believe that's enough, I guess they have learned the lesson and we really need a truce before Israel is going crazy," he says.

Ola Salama, a civil servant and a mother of two kids, says she wants the fighting to end as soon as possible. "Our life is getting worse, we are always panicked by the bombardment and the continuation of the fire rocket and shelling means a ground war, which I don't want," she says. "We have had enough of this."

* Kristen Chick contributed from Cairo.

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