Mixed Feelings Amidst the Chaos
When the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a sudden attack on Israel early Saturday morning, it triggered a range of emotions among the Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza Strip.
A Complex Reaction
Some among them celebrated this unexpected offensive, viewing it as a symbolic victory against Israel. However, there was also a palpable sense of fear in the air, as many dreaded a potentially devastating retaliation.
The Ominous Response
In response to Hamas’ unprecedented incursion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern declaration on that fateful Saturday, asserting that his nation was at war and vowing a “mighty vengeance for this black day.”
A Grim Tally of Casualties
Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer, disclosed to CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday that the conflict had already claimed the lives of more than 600 individuals in Israel, with the grim likelihood of the death toll climbing higher.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, reported on Sunday that Israel had targeted and destroyed approximately 800 sites in Gaza, including what were described as launching pads utilized by Hamas. The toll on the Palestinian side was also heart-wrenching, with at least 413 Palestinians, including 78 children, losing their lives, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
A Desperate Situation
Familiar with the enduring conflict with Israel, many Gazans are currently confined to their homes, lacking access to bunkers. Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas globally, houses around 2 million people within its 140 square miles. Venturing outside is a risk that many take only for essential errands or to search for loved ones amidst the destruction caused by Israeli strikes. The streets are in shambles, strewn with debris, and the air is heavy with the scent of dust and gunpowder.
The Story of Salim Hussein
One heartbreaking account comes from Salim Hussein, aged 55, who lost his home when his building became the target of an Israeli airstrike. He shared that his family had received warnings from Israel just moments before the building was struck, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was a cruel blow for Hussein, who had moved in with his family only five months earlier.
A Tragic Exodus Denied
Compounding the misery, Palestinians in Gaza found themselves barred from leaving the besieged enclave through the Erez crossing, which had become a battleground between Hamas and Israeli forces.
Cut Off from Essential Supplies
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would halt the supply of “electricity, fuel, and goods” into the Gaza Strip. However, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht clarified on Sunday that only electricity had been severed, leaving the Strip with power for just an average of four hours a day, down from the usual eight hours. Israel is the primary supplier of electricity to Gaza, and internet connectivity has also been erratic.
Gaza has been almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 17 years. Since 2007, it has been governed by Hamas and subjected to a strict siege by Egypt and Israel, including an air and naval blockade. This has led to its characterization by Human Rights Watch as the “world’s largest open-air prison.”
A Cycle of Violence
Gazans have witnessed Israeli strikes devastating the enclave several times since Israeli forces withdrew from the territory in 2005. Periodic confrontations continue to occur between Israel and various Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
As the conflict escalates, Israel has targeted and demolished at least 10 towers in Gaza, which they claim were used by Hamas. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers are now on the ground in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip. The IDF’s current focus is on gaining control of Gaza, leading to an urgent appeal to civilians to leave residential areas near the border for their safety, as Israeli military operations intensify.
The Trapped Population
However, for the majority of Gazans, there is no escape from the besieged enclave. All border crossings are sealed, except for the closely monitored Rafah crossing with Egypt.
A Desperate Cry for Shelter
Hani El-Bawab, aged 75, and his family of four have spent sleepless nights fearing airstrikes. The neighboring tower was struck by Israel, collapsing onto their home, leaving them homeless. El-Bawab’s wife is staying with an acquaintance, while he finds himself living on the streets. His plea is a simple one: “I just want a house to live in with my kids. I just want shelter.”