Amid casualties, Gaza's civilians say there is no escaping onslaught

Palestinians ran yesterday during an Israeli airstrike at the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip. Palestinians ran yesterday during an Israeli airstrike at the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip. (Mohammed Abed/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Ibrahim Barzak and Diaa Hadid
Associated Press / December 30, 2008
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GAZA CITY - In three days of treating the wounded from Israel's air assault, nurse Ragda Mustafa has not had time to shower when she changes her blood-splattered clothes, and she takes just brief naps at her small hospital in northern Gaza.

At one point, she collapsed, mistaking a dead child she helped carry on a stretcher for her own son. Eight children under the age of 17 were killed in overnight strikes, medics said.

"We don't know where they'll shell next," medic Mohammed Azayzeh, 27, said. His family lives near a Hamas institution that residents fear will be bombed, but they aren't budging, because they don't know if the next place they would flee to would be any safer.

Israel has stressed that most of the deaths and injuries were Hamas fighters and says it is careful to avoid harm to bystanders. But the nonstop attacks have caused widespread power outages, terrified residents, and left aid agencies unable to feed thousands of needy people.

By yesterday, the death toll rose to 364, with some 1,400 reported wounded, according to Palestinian medical officials. The United Nations reported that at least 62 of the dead were women and children.

Israel launched its campaign, the deadliest against Palestinians in decades, Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.

Israel, which has allowed limited humanitarian supplies into the territory, is attacking Hamas-run organizations, homes of activists and security posts, all scattered in densely populated areas. Gazans say strikes come without warning.

However, Israeli forces offered a general warning by dropping leaflets and recording brief announcements that interrupt radio broadcasts. They also reached other homes by telephone, telling Gaza residents to flee if they were hiding weapons or militants.

"Civilian casualties are almost impossible to avoid, and that's particularly true when so many locations are being targeted," said UN humanitarian chief John Holmes. He said there were also male civilian deaths, but the UN has not been able to determine how many.

The UN said Sunday that one Palestinian UN employee and eight trainees were also among the dead.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon again condemned what he called Israel's excessive use of force and urged an immediate cease-fire. "The frightening nature of what is happening on the ground - in particular its effects on children, who are more than half of the population - troubles me greatly," he said.

In some areas, the shelling damaged electrical cables, throwing whole areas into darkness.

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