Rescue workers frantically searched for survivors under the rubble on Sunday as Israel’s bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip entered its seventh consecutive day.
An hour-long rain of 150 rockets pounded the territory overnight on Sunday in what a Palestinian security source said was the “most intense” shelling since the second intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.
Emergency teams worked to pull out bodies from vast piles of smoking rubble and toppled buildings as relatives wailed in horror and grief.
Nearly half of the rockets targeted the Gaza City district of al-Wehda where residential houses, infrastructure and roads were destroyed or partially damaged.
The ministry of health confirmed 33 people were killed overnight – including Dr Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine at Shifa hospital – following Israeli bombardment on their homes. Five children were found alive under the debris.
“We can still hear people shouting from under the rubble,” said Medhat Hamdan, a civil defence worker who came from Khan Younis to Gaza City and worked nonstop for 11 hours to save lives.
“For me, working in this field has numbed me to any fear. I’m no longer shocked by what I see, but one can’t help get emotional when we reach the bodies of children and remove them,” said Hamdan, adding he pulled three dead children from under the rubble.
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) May 16, 2021
Translation: Rescue team still searching for missing persons at the scene of the massacre that took place on al-Wehda Street in Gaza City.
“Our entire neighbourhood – from Tel Shubeir to Palmera intersection – was bombed,” said Ramzi Eshkuntana, who was at home when he said 40 successive air raids fell on the area in just a few minutes.
“We ran out of the house and saw the destruction of most the buildings around us, including my brother’s house. His wife and four children were killed as they were sleeping,” said Eshkuntana.
“My brother’s wife was pulled out with her arms around her children,” he added. “These weren’t F-16 missiles; these were bombs from F-35 warplanes.”
‘These are children’
A rescue worker gave his account as he was trying to rescue people from under the debris.
“We heard the screams of a young girl. We also heard the ringing of a mobile phone. We followed the sound and for hours, using a bulldozer and other light devices, we got to the girl, who is alive,” he said.
“The woman, along with her children – two boys and two girls – are dead. Were these children firing rockets? Isn’t it enough they were denied the joy of Eid? These are children! The oldest one was in the fourth grade.”
Mirjam Mueller, head of the ICRC in Gaza said the last few days were marked by a “dramatic” increase in violence.
“Our teams have rarely been able to move. A de-escalation is really needed so that we can assess the humanitarian situation on the ground and deliver much-needed aid,” said Mueller.
“I have been here only a couple of days … and it has been heartbreaking to see how the situation has been unfolding.”
— PRCS (@PalestineRCS) May 15, 2021
Another resident, Khalil al-Kolak, said both of his family’s buildings were destroyed.
“We woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the bombardment,” he said.
“Only two from our family are alive, ” he continued. “The rest -14 members including women, children and men – are all gone. There are still six under the rubble.”
Raji al-Sourani, head of Palestine centre for human rights, told Al Jazeera that Israel is intentionally targeting civilians.
“What happened here in al-Wehda is clear evidence that Israel is carrying out crimes against humanity and purposely targeting civilians,” he said.
“The most developed and powerful military in the region is attacking residential buildings, banks, journalists and families. It is clear that this criminal army can’t beat the resistance and instead 80 percent of its targets are civilians.”
Al-Sourani said the crimes are being documented and will be presented to international courts.
Israeli Brigadier-General Hidai Zilberman, an army spokesman, told Israel’s army radio on Sunday the military targeted the home of Yehiyeh Sinwar, the most senior Hamas leader inside the territory.
Since violence flared on Monday more than 170 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed, including 41 children. More than 1,000 others have been wounded. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have killed at least 13 Palestinians.
Palestinian armed groups have fired at least 2,300 rockets at Israel, killing 10 people, including two children, and wounding more than 560 Israelis.
‘Striking our children’
The intense bombing on Sunday came hours after Israeli missiles hit the Shati refugee camp killing 10 relatives – two mothers and their four children each. Israel’s army claimed the building was used by senior Hamas officials, which was refuted by residents in the camp.
“They are striking our children, children, without prior warning,” said a devastated Mohammed al-Hadidi who lost most of his family in the strike and whose five-month-old baby was also wounded in the explosion.
On the same day, Israeli forces brought down a high-rise building housing the offices of media organisations, including Al Jazeera’s bureau.
As violence grows, the humanitarian situation steadily worsens with some 17,000 Palestinians fleeing their homes near the Israeli fence east of the Gaza Strip for fear of a ground offensive, the United Nations said.
“They are sheltering in schools, mosques, and other places during a global COVID-19 pandemic with limited access to water, food, hygiene and health services,” UN humanitarian official Lynn Hastings said.
Growing #humanitarian crisis in #Gaza. Now 10,000 displaced within Gaza. Israeli and Palestinian authorities must allow humanitarian relief and access. READ my statement here: https://t.co/rIpBOIRZoW pic.twitter.com/7EcVttILgw
— Lynn Hastings (@LynnHastings) May 14, 2021
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “dismayed” by civilian casualties in Gaza and “deeply disturbed” by Israel’s strike on the tower housing news bureaus.
Guterres “reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs”, his spokesman said.
The UN Security Council meets on Sunday to discuss the bloodiest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since 2014.
Palestinians on Saturday marked the Nakba – the “catastrophe” that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during Israel’s creation in 1947-1948.
Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, a day after some of the worst clashes in recent years in the territory left 11 Palestinians dead.
Additional reporting by Hosam Salem in Gaza