More than 60 Palestinians were killed Sunday as Israeli forces pounded northern Gaza, sending thousands more fleeing in terror in the biggest offensive against the besieged Gaza Strip in five years.
Sunday’s bloody toll prompted urgent efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to broker a temporary ceasefire to allow paramedics to evacuate the dead and wounded in a deal accepted by both sides.
But it lasted less than an hour, as Israel resumed assaults against Gaza in the neighborhood of Shejaia.
Israel accuses Hamas of firing in violation of the agreement, and saying its forces were “responding accordingly.”
Inside the ravaged neighbourhood of Shejaiya, there were hellish scenes of carnage and chaos as a convoy of ambulances rushed in to make the most of the calm, an AFP correspondent said.
As the Palastenian death toll passed 410, UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to add his weight to truce efforts and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to hold talks in Qatar with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.
As Israel’s blistering offensive on Shejaiya escalates, thousands could be seen fleeing for their lives after heavy shelling left casualties lying in the streets, an AFP correspondent reported.
Footage from the area showed vast clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky as the shelling continued and Gaza’s eastern flank burned.
Ambulances were unable to reach much of the area along the border with Israel because of heavy fire.
But as the ceasefire got under way, a convoy of ambulances entered, with medics seen picking up at least three dead bodies, including that of a man with his intestines hanging out and his head completely destroyed, the correspondent said.
The blackened shells of cars littered the streets along with the burnt-out wreckage of an ambulance, as smoke poured from areas that were still burning.
At least four men carrying machine-guns could be seen among the people evacuating the area, some of them masked, the correspondent said.
Among the dead were women and children, as well as a Palestinian paramedic and a cameraman who were killed when the ambulance they were in was hit, with the ongoing fire hampering efforts to recover the bodies.
“He wasn’t a fighter, he was a fighter for humanity,” wailed one relative as the family buried him.
“He was an ambulance worker, did he deserve to die?”
At Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, casualties were being brought in by the minute, some in ambulances, others in cars and trucks.
Among them were many children screaming in agony, some peppered with shrapnel wounds.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Doctor Said Hassan, who has worked at the hospital for eight years.
Fights broke out in the emergency room as hysterical parents banged on the walls in fear and sorrow.
“The shelling was non-stop, it was everywhere,” Sabah Mamluk, 40, told AFP.
“We ran into the streets and started to walk. It was terrifying,” she said.
Meanwhile, Israel said its ground “operation” was to “expand” later Sunday, claiming the ground invasions aims to destroy the network of tunnels used by militants to stage cross-border attacks.
“This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security,” the army said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put the blame for civilian casualties squarely on Hamas, accusing the group of “using innocent civilians as human shields.”
So far, UNRWA has opened 55 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily bombarded areas, with more than 63,000 people taking refuge in them, the agency said.
Meanwhile, the Arab League has denounced war crimes committed against the Palestinians in Gaza at the hands of Israel.
source: ahram online