June 25, 2024

The streets of Gaza City were mostly empty throughout Saturday as Israeli airstrikes hit the blockaded coastal enclave, sending massive plumes of gray and black smoke into the sky.

But hospitals and morgues were packed by relatives seeking news of their loved ones.

The bodies of Palestinian fighters returned to Gaza from Israel filled the morgue at the Shifa Hospital, where by afternoon there was no space left inside the refrigerators and corpses were laid out on the floor. But more bodies and injured fighters continued to arrive, as did families of the dead.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that 198 Palestinians had been killed and 1,610 wounded. Yousef Abu al-Rish, the top Palestinian health official in Gaza, said that most of the casualties resulted from clashes inside Israel.

Gaza’s health ministry said Israel had struck a hospital in northern Gaza, killing one worker, and struck an ambulance in front of another hospital in the southern Gazan town of Khan Younis, wounding several hospital workers and civilians.

Amid concerns that the airstrikes would intensify, supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies in Gaza City were busy with people frantically stocking up on supplies. Shelves had already emptied.

School was suspended across Gaza, and people began to gather at the empty school buildings to take shelter.

Once the sun set, large parts of the enclave were plunged into darkness — some power lines were downed and the strip reliant on a power generation station had limited capacity, according to Gaza’s electricity distribution company. Gazans were getting no more than four hours of electricity at a time.

The tiny strip has witnessed many wars, but its inhabitants were terrified of what could come after Gaza’s armed groups launched a coordinated and unprecedented attack into southern Israel on Saturday morning.

Some families living in northern Gaza made their way south to Gaza City and to the homes of relatives, after having woken up to the sound of explosions and fearing the worst.

Jamila Al-Zanin, 39, tried to distract her three children as they fled their home not far from the border with Israel to drive south.

“The children were terrified, as we drove down they were looking left and right, everywhere there were explosions and booms,” she said. “They were hysterical.”

Um Mohammad Abu Jaraad, a 35-year-old mother of five, woke up in her home near the northern border in Gaza to the sounds of explosions. Her children were screaming and they fled their home without taking anything with them, she said.

“The situation is very difficult,” she said.

She said they traveled to her parent’s home farther south but that she didn’t feel safe even there, worried that the explosions could follow her anywhere in the Gaza Strip.

Her young children have already lived through numerous rounds of Israeli airstrikes, and she wondered how long their lives would continue to be like this.

“We are exhausted, every war is like this,” she said. “Every war we flee from home to home.”

For the second time in less than three years, Dr. Ismael Ahel, a psychologist in Gaza City, was trying, but failing, to find a safe shelter to evacuate his wife and six children as Israeli airstrikes rained down.

“I remember living through these conditions with my children in May 2021 — the same fear of living under bombardment, hearing the airstrikes and seeing the dead bodies not far from our home,” he said. “My family is very anxious; seeing the injured and dead bodies brings back the mental pain we experienced back then.”

Along the northern border of Gaza, some Palestinians gathered to watch scenes unimaginable just hours earlier. They cheered as fighters returned, some of them with terrified Israeli hostages or the bodies of killed Israeli soldiers.

Yousur Al-Hlou contributed reporting.

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