By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – A Gazan woman packed her family’s belongings and gathered her six children into a car after a terrifying night of air strikes that damaged their home, crying: “What did my children do to deserve this?”
Bodies lay piled in Gaza morgues on Tuesday, smouldering rubble from destroyed housing blocks choked narrow streets and ever more families crowded for shelter into U.N. schools as Israeli strikes pounded the enclave.
Palestinian residents of Gaza say the thousands of massive blasts that have lit up their crowded alleys by night and darkened them with smoke by day since Saturday’s deadly Hamas raid on Israel are already the worst they have ever suffered.
“This is not retaliation. This is madness,” said Jehad, a grocery store owner in the impoverished enclave’s comparatively wealthier Remal district, who asked not to give his family name for fear of Israeli reprisals.
“Who did they kill so far? Hamas leaders? No, they killed hundreds of civilians.”
As Israeli authorities continue to discover bodies of families shot by Hamas fighters, they have pounded Gaza and enforced a tighter blockade of the narrow, crowded Palestinian enclave, cutting off electricity, water, food and fuel.
The strikes on Gaza have killed more than 770 people, injured 4,000 more and driven 187,000 to seek shelter in U.N. schools. The enclave, only 40km (25 miles) long by 10km (6 miles) wide, is home to 2.3 million people.
Israel began its air strikes soon after Islamist Hamas militants launched a massive coordinated attack on Israeli towns early on Saturday, sending rockets and gunmen that killed at least 900 people and abducted more than 100 others into Gaza.
An Israeli military spokesman person said 123 Israeli soldiers were among the dead. Hamas said two of its senior leaders were killed in one of the retaliatory hits on Gaza.
‘NO ELECTRICITY, FOOD OR WATER’
Gazan mother Emmah Thahir said she had no idea where to go for safety with her husband and young children.
“Last night was the most difficult night that we spent at the tower block. They targeted all the surrounding areas and the children were terrified.”
Blasts from air strikes destroyed their apartment’s balcony and windows so they went outside and sat in the street until an ambulance collected them.
“What did my children do to deserve this?… What is our fault? What did my children do? There is no electricity, internet, food or water.”
She added she had nowhere to go after the buildings of two people who had offered shelter had also been damaged.
At the morgue in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, bodies lay on stretchers on the floor, blood smeared between them, their names scrawled onto their stomachs. One corpse lay with an arm outflung, the bodies of five small children lined neatly alongside.
Further inside the morgue, workers in medical gowns had shrouded bodies with white sheeting as they appealed for families to collect bodies quickly for burial to make space for dead still arriving.
Bodies had been pulled from rubble across the enclave. Struck buildings lay as huge mounds of concrete and other debris filled the air with swirling dust and smoke. Huge slabs dangled off damaged nearby buildings from twisted metal girders.
As residents directed an ambulance through the narrow streets, overhung with a lattice of wires, towards a smouldering bomb site where a dead street cat lay in the soot, a woman stood watching, clutching her mouth.
Overnight ambulances and rescue workers were unable to fulfil many of the dozens of appeals to reach strike zones where people lay trapped under the rubble or in basements below collapsed buildings.
In Remal, which means “sands” in Arabic and is known for its public gardens and the site of the old Palestinian parliament, residents said grimly that it should now be called “ashes”.
(Writing by Angus MacDowell, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)