GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Terrified prisoners fled a Gaza City jail bombed by Israeli warplanes on Sunday, their faces white with dust and red with blood as they stumbled over huge piles of rubble.
Across the territory, grieving families pitched traditional mourning tents of green tarp outside the homes. Yet the rows of chairs inside these tents remained largely empty, as residents cowered indoors. Plumes of gray smoke rising into the sky marked the site of the latest Israeli attacks.
Even for war-weary Gazans, who’ve lived through countless Israeli incursions, ai--r attacks and months of bitter Palestinian infighting, the bloody weekend was unusually traumatic. In all, more than 290 people – most of them Hamas policemen, but also 20 children – were killed and some 600 other Palestinians wounded in some 300 Israeli air attacks over two days.
On Saturday, shortly after Israel unleashed the deadliest-ever offensive against Hamas and its rocket squads, hospital morgues quickly overflowed. In the initial chaos, the dead were wrapped in blankets and lined up on the ground, as frantic relatives searched for their loved ones.
On Sunday, 25 unclaimed bodies still lay in the morgue of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, their faces disfigured beyond identification. In the southern town of Rafah, residents held a mass funeral for 14 people, including two brothers, and a father and son, all of them members of the Hamas security forces.
The shelling began at 11:30 A.M. Saturday, just as children returned home from school, women shopped in local markets and police directed traffic. At that moment, Israeli warplanes unleashed scores of bombs and missiles simultaneously at Hamas security installations. Residents described a veil of dust, smoke and rubble covering one world, and lifting to reveal another filled with horror.
Women were running, carrying their children, uniformed students screamed and cars crashing into each other as panicked drivers tried to get away.
The dead and wounded were rushed to hospitals in cars. Some carried blankets filled with body parts. “I have a head here,” one man yelled as he rushed into the crowded reception area of Shifa Hospital.
Police directed them to go to the hospital morgue, opposite the maternity ward, but it was already full by Saturday afternoon. One dead woman lay on the floor, her face covered in blood and wore an embroidered peasant’s robe. Men searching for relatives smacked their heads against the floor in grief and helplessness.
Inside Shifa, some of the floors were slick with blood. Wounded people sat in corridors, shooing away doctors, telling them to treat more urgent cases first.
Israeli strikes hit a new series of targets on Sunday: a fuel tanker, a Hamas television station, smuggling tunnels and a central prison in a main Hamas security compound.
The bombing of the prison set free dozens of prisoners, who rushed out from their cells, carrying bags of clothes and blankets with them as they scrambled over rubble, fleeing Hamas police. One man remained pinned under the rubble, his face smeared partly in white dust, partly in blood, shouting: “Wait for me! Pull me out!”
Miles away, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, the ground shook on Sunday afternoon. In a matter of four minutes, Israeli aircraft destroyed 40 smuggling tunnels running under the border. Area resident Fida Kishta rushed to the border once the smoke cleared – and she wasn’t alone.
Hundreds gathered at the border wall, trying to get across. Egyptian border guards opened fire above the crowds, trying to scatter them. Instead, residents manned a bulldozer and tried to knock down the wall. When that didn’t work, they set an explosive device beside it, knocking what Kishta said appeared to be a small hole. Dozens of defiant Gazans clambered over it, but were eventually returned to Gaza.
At times, shock turned into confusion and denial.
A medic called his friends abroad, asking if anybody had seen his sister who initially was missing in air strikes. A news photographer who found his friend under the rubble drove him home, unwilling to believe he was dead.
“My children are wetting the bed, they cry when they hear planes,” said Amal Hassan, 38, a mother of three children. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe the next bomb will fall here, maybe the next person killed will be one of us,” Hassan said. – AP