Thousands of families flee Gaza as Israeli airstrikes escalates death toll


Gaza Strip
Smoke and flames rise during Israeli airstrikes as cross-border violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants continues in Gaza City May 14, 2021. REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA

Thousands of Palestinians fled their homes Friday, grabbing their children and belongings as Israel bombarded the northern Gaza Strip with tank fire and airstrikes. According to Israeli officials, residents said a family of six was killed in their home overnight in an operation to clear militant tunnels.

As international attempts to reach a cease-fire escalated, Israel seemed to be aiming for greater harm against Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates Gaza and has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

"All the children are terrified," a Palestinian woman said. "Even those of us who have lived through war since childhood are terrified. We can't take it any longer."

The violence in Gaza was rapidly spilling over into other parts of the world.

Palestinians staged their largest demonstrations in the West Bank since 2017, with hundreds of people burning tires and throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in at least nine cities. Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers who opened fire, according to Palestinian health officials, while a seventh Palestinian was killed while attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.

For the fourth night in a row, religious unrest erupted in Israel. Even after more security forces were deployed, Jewish and Arab crowds clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll from the fighting has risen to 122, including 31 children and 20 women, with 900 people injured. The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have reported 20 deaths, though Israel claims the number is far higher. In Israel, eight people were killed, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.

According to CBS News foreign correspondent Imtiaz Tyab, Israel's relentless campaign has been clouded by uncertainty after a military spokesman told the international media on Thursday that its troops were "on the field" in Gaza, only to later say they weren't. According to Israeli newspapers, the apparent misunderstanding may have been part of a deliberate ruse to confuse Hamas.

However, it did not halt Hamas' rocket-firing campaign; according to Tyab, at least 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel since the conflict began.

On Thursday, Israel activated 9,000 reservists to join its troops massed at the Gaza border. Israeli tanks on the border and warplanes launched an intense bombardment on the northern end of the Gaza Strip before dawn on Friday.

As the earth shook for two and a half hours in the darkness, Houda Ouda and her extended family fled desperately into their home in the town of Beit Hanoun, seeking shelter.

"We didn't even dare to peek out the window to see what was being struck," she said. When the sun came up, she saw a swath of devastation: streets cratered, houses crushed or with facades blown off, an olive tree burnt to the ground, dust everywhere.

Residents in the neighboring town of Beit Lahia said Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife, and four children aged seven and under were killed after an Israeli warplane blew up their four-story apartment building. Rafat's brother Fadi said four strikes hit the building at 11 p.m., just before the family went to bed. The owner of the building and his wife were both killed.

"It was a massacre," another relative, Sadallah Tanani, said. "I can't put into words how I feel."

An Israeli military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, said the operation involved tank fire and airstrikes aimed at destroying a tunnel network under Gaza City known as "the Metro," which militants use to evade surveillance and airstrikes.

"As always, the aim is to hit military targets with as little collateral damage and civilian casualties as possible," he said. "Unlike our previous elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before striking high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that was not possible this time."

Residents fled the city in pickup trucks, on donkeys, and foot as the sun rose, carrying pillows, blankets, pots and pans, and bread. Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children, said, "We were terrified for our children, who were screaming and trembling."

Thousands broke into 16 UNRWA-run schools, according to Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which he said was struggling to find a way to shelter them due to movement restrictions on its workers amid the fighting and COVID-19 concerns.

Mohammed Ghabayen, who took shelter with his family in a kindergarten, said his children hadn't eaten since the previous day and didn't have any mattresses to sleep on. "And all of this is happening in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic," he said. "We're not sure whether to be concerned about the coronavirus or the missiles, or what to do."

Hamas has shown no signs of giving up. While more than a quarter of its rockets fell short within Gaza and the majority of the remainder were intercepted by missile defense systems, some of them were aimed at the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv.

Nonetheless, the rockets have brought life to a halt in parts of southern Israel and triggered airport disturbances.

According to a spokesman for Hamas' military arm, the group is not afraid of a land invasion because it would enable them to "increase our capture" of Israeli soldiers.

After Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire talks that showed no signs of progress, the strikes occurred. Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations were leading attempts to reach an agreement.

According to CBS News' Pamela Falk, the United States and other countries have agreed to hold an emergency open virtual meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday.

According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas will "pay a very high price" for its missile attacks.

President Biden of the United States said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the war, but added that "there has not been a major overreaction."

"Get to a point where there is a major reduction in attacks, especially rocket attacks," he said. "It's a work in progress," he said of the project.

Publish : 2021-05-15 08:51:00

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