Many Palestinian families fled the Shujayea neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City after a sleepless night that witnessed the heaviest bombardment of the 13-day Israeli assault on Gaza. Heavy tank and artillery shelling has left 72 people dead, most of them women and children and over 200 injured, according to Palestinian health ministry sources.
At midday, horrific images were aired on Al Jazeera where corpses of burnt women and children were lying on the streets of Shujayea as a result of the Israeli bombardment. According to several eye witness accounts, Shujayea residents fled under heavy bombardment.
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According to Palestinian human rights organisations, women were seen taking their children out to flee from the area, and some of them were killed. “People who were not able to leave the area have been trapped under the Israeli shelling and their destinies are unknown,” said a statement issued by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Among those who fled the Shujayea massacre was 29-year-old Ibtessam Batniji, walking with three children and clutching an infant, looking for a taxi to pick them up in a street devoid of cars.
“We did not sleep, there was bombing everywhere,” she told Al Jazeera. “I don’t know where we will go,” she added.
Another group of women from her extended family walked close to her, the sound of shells destroying homes in their neighbourhood behind them.
“Children are scared. We wanted to leave earlier, but we did not dare to go out in the dark. It was like a ghost town, the smell of death and sound of shooting and shelling was everywhere,” one of the women said.
Many families who have evacuated from north and east Gaza are gathering in the city centre and crammed in United Nations-run schools or at homes of relatives and acquaintances.
With more Palestinians arriving from Shujayea, the most recent arrivals could not go to the overcrowded schools. Instead, they sat on the grass in the yard of al-Shifa hospital in the city.
“This is the safest place,” said Nada Abu Amr, as her two children played on the grass. The families sat in circles, with fasting men lying on the ground.
I had to count them, to hold their hands and escape … we are not Hamas, we have no resistance, but Israel keeps hitting us.
“They hit our neighbour’s house, we decided to go,” Abu Amr added.
Atayat Aiad, a grandmother, said she had to run away with her grandchildren who were terrified.
“I had to count them, to hold their hands and escape … we are not Hamas, we have no resistance, but Israel keeps hitting us,” she said.
“This is migration, I’m afraid I will return to find our home destroyed. All the savings we would have would have gone,” she continued.
When Khayreya al-Muqayad, 39, left her home the third day after Israel began its operation against Gaza, she knew where she was going, having taken refuge two times before in UN-run schools.
But this time, the situation is different from their first evacuation during Israel’s operation against Gaza in 2008/09 and the eight-day blitz of 2012.
“The first time it was winter, we had enough mattresses and covers. The second time, we spent only one night away and the war was over,” Muqayad said from an UNRWA school in Gaza City.
This time, she says she has been stuck here for nine days, with no sign of when they will go back.
“It’s Ramadan; we spent the day sitting outside the classrooms because it’s airy … classrooms are full of families and they are hot,” she said of the situation at the schools.
The situation in the schools was dire. Adnan Abu Hassna, spokesman for the UNRWA, told Al Jazeera that his agency needs $60m to meet people’s demands and provide them with two meals for Ramadan.
“The number of people we shelter exceeded 50,000. This figure is higher than the number we hosted”, during the January 2009 invasion of Gaza, he noted.
“We will need more shelters and more centres within the coming days,” he added.
The schools’ bathrooms are not equipped for showers. Muqayad said they have not had showers for days.
The school, which is on the edge of the Beach Refugee Camp in west Gaza, hosts more than 1,470 people in 47 classrooms.
Clothes and mattress covers hang on the railing outside the classrooms. Some men take afternoon naps on the school’s concrete yard.
“Life here is like prison… No, prison is better,” the woman said. Her 10-year-old daughter, Areej, says that she can’t sleep at night because of the bombing.
“In the morning, it’s too noisy and many children play in the yard and in the rooms, so I can’t sleep here.”
“I pray this will be over and I go to my home. I miss it.”