Hasan al-Attar stood quietly inside the morgue, staring at the bodies of his daughter, Lamya, and three other children belonging to the same family. Wearing his fireman’s vest, he bent over to kiss his daughter, before the refrigeration unit door was closed.
“Pray for her,” a colleague said, clasping his hand on Hasan’s shoulder.
Lamya and the children – the siblings Amir and Islam al-Attar – and Mohammed al-Attar were killed overnight on Friday in Beit Lahia, after an Israeli air raid bombed the house they were staying in.
The northern town in the Gaza Strip, along with Beit Hanoun and Jabalya, was one of the areas that witnessed almost relentless aerial bombardment coupled with heavy artillery shelling. Shuja’iah, located in Gaza City’s east, was also battered.
An Israeli army spokesperson said on Friday the pre-dawn offensive included 160 warplanes that took off from six airbases and used about 450 missiles and shells to raid 150 targets within 40 minutes.
Jonathan Conricus said the attack was aimed at destroying an “underground tunnel system” in Gaza.
But Abedrabbo al-Attar, a resident of Beit Lahia, told Al Jazeera the raids targeted civilians.
“We left our home screaming after the house [that Lamya and the children were in] next to us was destroyed,” the 40-year-old father of six said.
“We thought we were all going to die. There were no resistance fighters in the area, and Israel bombed everything, more than 50 raids nonstop.”
Al-Attar said his family and his brother’s family walked on foot some 8km (4 miles) before reaching an UNRWA school opposite the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
“Our children slept on the bare floor,” he said. “We brought nothing with us, and we don’t know if our house is still standing.”
Dozens of families from Gaza’s northern towns were also displaced. In the residential building of Abraj al-Nada, families were unable to leave because of the heavy fire and appealed to the Red Cross for help.
“This is the worst war I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve seen a few of those,” al-Attar said. “It has been absolutely ruthless.”
Ground incursion at the ready
According to the Gaza ministry of health, 119 Palestinians have been killed so far, including 31 children and 19 women. At least 830 others have been wounded.
Israeli health officials say 1,050 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip so far. Eight Israelis and one Indian national have been killed, and more than 130 wounded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged the offensive will continue “as needed to restore calm in the state of Israel”.
Al Jazeera’s Elias Karram said many Israeli tanks had advanced towards the Gaza Strip on Thursday and are now situated one kilometre from the Israeli fence.
Karram also noted the Israeli army called upon 16,000 reserve soldiers and banned military leave.
The pre-dawn escalation on the Gaza Strip resulted in many residents posting their farewells on social media. Large power cuts swept through Gaza City during the Israeli onslaught.
Diaa Wadi, a resident of Shujaiyah, live-tweeted his ordeal.
“Hello world,” he wrote at one point. “My family and I are under the target of the bombing of the Israeli occupation’s artillery and warplanes.
“We have distributed ourselves in a different corner of the same room,” he continued. “Each of us is holding a bag, with our papers and some belongings, staring at each other. Now fear is sitting with us. This is the hardest and heaviest moment in my whole life!”
Two hours later, after the attacks subsided, Wadi said he wishes he could see the morning.
“Even if we never see the sun again, we are all for Jerusalem,” he said.
In Beit Hanoun, an entire residential area was devastated by air raids. One of the Palestinians living in the area, Mohammed al-Zoni, told Al Jazeera as many as 30 houses were destroyed.
“Everything that has to do with life has been destroyed,” he said. “Cars, carts, fields … everything.”
— Tamer Hamam (@itamer83) May 14, 2021
Translation: Massive destruction caused by the violent Zionist bombing last night in the city of Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip.
Al-Zoni said it was only by the grace of God that no one was killed, as the families fled immediately after the attacks began.
“We were sitting at home when without warning, the bombing began,” he said. “Glass from the windows rained down on us. My family is staying with relatives in a different area for now, but Israel needs to know one thing, and that is we will remain here.”
As people in Gaza recover from what they have described as one of the worst nights, others will continue to bury their loved ones.
On Wednesday night, Rafat Tanani and his entire family were killed in an Israeli attack in the Sheikh Zayed area in northern Gaza. He and his wife Rawya, 36, who was pregnant, and their children Ismail, Adham, Amir, and Mohammed – all under the age of 8 – were buried alive under the rubble.
Translation: My niece Zena (one year old) and nephew Mohammad (3 years old) the moment they were pulled out from under the rubble after [Israeli] planes bombed our house suddenly. Up to this moment, my neighbours on the top floor are missing, a husband and his wife and his four children – the eldest of whom is 7 years old.
It took rescue teams a day to reach the bodies of the family.
“It’s completely unhinged the way Israel is targeting civilian homes and killing children and displacing people,” Rafat’s cousin Jameel told Al Jazeera. “What we’re experiencing now is way worse than the offensive in 2014.
“The shelling and air attacks this time are insane.”