'Death is near': Gaza disfigured by air strikes and siege

Gaza

A fireball erupts from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. 

Photo credit: AFP

Sheltering from Israeli night raids on Gaza, Mazen Mohammad and his family slept on the ground floor of their apartment block, huddling together with frightened neighbours as explosions rang all around them.   

The neighbourhood they woke up to the next day was ravaged beyond recognition: buildings had crumbled to the ground and  debris carpeted the streets.

"As soon as we saw the neighbourhood, my wife and I simultaneously asked ourselves: Is this real?," said Mohammad, a 38-year-old father of four.

"We felt like we were in a ghost town, as if we were the only survivors," he told said.

Israel declared war on Hamas on Sunday following a shock land, air and sea assault by the Gaza-based Islamists. 

The multi-pronged surprise assault on Israel launched before dawn on Saturday by Hamas has left thousands dead on both sides.

Hamas militants killed more than 900 people in Israel after infiltrating southern communities, shooting dead hundreds including at a desert festival and dragging 150 hostages back to Gaza.

In retaliation, Israel has bombarded Gaza where officials have reported 900 people killed so far.

Israel's army said the bodies of roughly 1,500 militants had been found.

Mohammad's family lives in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood in western Gaza which was pounded by a heavy barrage of Israeli strikes on Monday night. 

"We could not... stay in the apartment because it was on the tenth floor," said Mohammad. 

'No longer a human'

At day break on Tuesday, hundreds of families flooded Gaza's streets, many of them barefoot as they walked over debris and shards of glass.

"I was shocked when I saw entire neighbourhoods destroyed," said Mohammad as he drove off with his family to Al Nasr neighbourhood in central Gaza to stay with friends.

He said he had to take several detours because the streets were clogged with rubble.

Outside Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest medical complex, men burst into tears after receiving news that their loved ones, injured in the Israeli air strikes, had died.

The Israeli raids left widespread destruction around the hospital and flattened a neighbouring six-story residential building.

"I feel death is near," said May Youssef, a 34-year-old mother of two, told AFP. "If not my death, then that of the people I care about."

Youssef also complained of a severe shortage of life-saving medicines and essential goods in Gaza, where Israel has imposed a total siege since Monday, cutting off the water supply, food, electricity and other essential supplies.

"I feel like I am no longer a human being. I am helpless," she said.

"My little daughter had a fever... and we found it very difficult... to buy medicine," she said.

Most businesses in Gaza, including grocery stores, have closed their doors. Only a few have remained open to cater for urgent needs.

Out of Gaza?

Gaza's economy ministry has said that stocks of most basic commodities could last eight months.

There is enough flour to last until the end of the year, it said in a statement. 

On Tuesday long queues formed outside bakeries as Gazans sought to buy bread, but at one of them a man was rebuffed by an employee when he ordered five loaves. He was only allowed two.

The sound of ambulance and police sirens, meanwhile, ring out from every corner of the pummelled city, muted only by the overpowering roar of air strikes.

With no signs of the violence abating, many residents are trying to escape via Gaza's sole border crossing with Egypt, the only entry point not controlled by Israel.

The Rafah crossing was hit by an Israeli air strike Tuesday for the third time in 24 hours. 

Sinai for Human Rights NGO said Tuesday's strikes had prompted the closure of the crossing, but there was no immediate confirmation from either side.

Travel through the Rafah is restricted to humanitarian cases and requires often time-consuming authorisations.

One Gaza company is trying to make a brisk business by arranging travel through Rafah, with those seeking to leave paying hundreds of dollars to register their names. 

"Demand is high and reservations are complete for at least a whole week," one company employee said on the condition of anonymity.

Abu Ahmad al-Shanti, 47, said the worst is yet to come for those who stay put. 

"Israel intends to destroy and annihilate everything in Gaza."