‘Tank shells were falling like hot raindrops’

Survivors of Shujayea bombardment recount horror tales amid frantic search for lost family members.

'Nowhere was safe to run to,' said Iman Mansour, one of Shujayea's residents [AFP]

Shujayea, Gaza – Mahmoud al-Sheikh Khail, 36, one of the few survivors from Shujayea, stood nervously at the gates of al-Shifa hospital waiting for the next ambulance to arrive. His frightened eyes spotted an ambulance making its way through the crowd with difficulty.

The ambulance doors opened and the dead are lifted off. He burst into tears as he recognised a familiar small face and shouts out: “Samia al-Sheikh Khail!” Three-year-old Samia’s body has been torn to shreds by an Israeli tank shell. Yet, she is still recognisable despite the burns.

Khail learnt that the body remains wrapped in white burial shrouds are his cousins. He collapses: “We were trying to run but the tank shells were chasing us wherever we went,” he told al Jazeera.  

“Around 6am, I was inside my house. I heard the neighbours screaming for help after a blast. I managed to get outside to try to rescue them but it was a massacre: Woman and children all torn into small pieces.”

Shujayea, in the east of Gaza City, has been under the most horrendous attack since Israel began its assault  on Gaza 14 days ago. Yesterday’s carnage left 72 people dead, according to the Palestinian health ministry statement. Nearly all of the dead were women, children, and elderly men.

According to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesperson for the health ministry, Gaza’s latest death toll climbed to 506 people killed and more than 3,150 injured since the start of Israel’s assault on July 8.

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Those like Khail who survived said it was a miracle.  

According to several eye witness accounts, some of Shujayea residents were holding whatever white cloth they could find: white shirts, undershirts, or table cloths to wave as white flags. They wanted to get out of the targeted area under constant heavy Israeli bombardment. But the white cloth was either ripped apart or covered in blood. 

I lived through the 1967 war ... this war is indescribable. It’s crueler than the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.

by - Umm Wael Mansour, a Shujayea resident

Iman Mansour, another survivor and mother of three, managed to escape with her children.

“Nowhere was safe to run to,” she told Al Jazeera. Her three children, all injured, are receiving medical treatment at Shifa hospital. “We were forced to leave our house because tank shells were falling like hot raindrops.”

Her mother-in-law, Umm Wael Mansour, who is also being treated at Shifa hospital, had her house destroyed by a tank shell. “I lived through the 1967 war and all the following Israeli wars but this war is indescribable. It’s crueler than the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.”  

When her house was hit, she screamed out and as neighbours tried to help, they were killed right outside her doorstep. “The bodies of men, women and children were scattered all over and no one could come to help save them,” she said as tears fell.

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The smell at Shifa hospital is of burned human flesh. The morgue is filled with all types of injuries: dismembered human body parts and limbs, burnt bodies, including bad facial burns of dead children. 

The morgue has more bodies than it can hold. Many of the victims are unrecognisable. Those searching for their loved ones struggle to remember any specific physical detail: skin colour, old scars, facial shape, haircut or height and weight, scraps of coloured clothing, to be able to identify an otherwise very badly damaged body. 

During the two-hour ceasefire, ambulance crews struggled to collect dead bodies when they came across some people who were still alive, some were taking their last breath as they bled to death.

In one instance a paramedic saw a stretcher on the floor and underneath it the body of his colleague Fouda Jaber, killed by an Israeli tank shelling. “Oh my God, Fouad … Fouad is one of them. He has been killed,” screamed the medical worker before carrying out the body of his friend and colleague.

Jaber was on a rescue mission trying to save a family of 10, most of them women and children. He died inside the house while the ambulance was destroyed by tank shells.

“Instead of targeting medical facilities, in violation of international law, Israeli forces must protect medics and patients and ensure that the injured can safely reach medical facilities in Gaza and when necessary, outside the Strip,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International.

Back at the hospital, more survivors still await the ambulances, searching desperately for their own family members. 

Khail stayed until the end of the day looking in vain for more relatives. Paramedics confirmed that seven of his cousins were dead.

All he is hoping for now is another ceasefire so he can get back home to search for the missing family members.

Follow Mohammed Omer on Twitter: @mogaza

Source: Al Jazeera