Gazans flee past bodies as Israel shells town and expands ground offensive

Gazans flee past bodies as Israel shells town and expands ground offensive

Gazans flee past bodies as Israel shells town and expands ground offensive

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by Ben Wedeman, Ben Brumfield and Karl Penhaul

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Gaza City (CNN) -- Hundreds of Palestinians fled in panic into Gaza City on Sunday as Israeli troops focused their firepower on the nearby town of Shaja'ia. The shelling and bombing killed at least 40 people, a Gaza hospital spokesman said.

More bodies lay in the streets under gashes blasted into apartment buildings, said people who had escaped the violence, as the shelling continued.

Overnight, Israel ramped up shellfire in Gaza, and early Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces announced it is expanding its ground offensive into the Palestinian enclave.

Over Shaja'ia, a towering column of black smoke rose up, and live video showed a helicopter gunship chopping by overhead. Ambulances rushed up to take the wounded to hospitals, where moments later, they were rolled into triage.

The attack wounded another 200 people, Gaza health ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra said in a tweet.

Many of the wounded were struck inside their homes, the ministry said. Incoming rounds hindered ambulances from picking some of them up.

One incoming shell followed another overnight in Shaja'ia, residents said, as they arrived on foot in a tide of humanity into Gaza City. They hunkered down in their homes in the dark and waited for daylight before fleeing.

Others arrived in bunches pressed into cars and onto donkey carts. Some stayed behind and flocked to U.N. schools.

Some had received text messages in previous days warning them to flee, but residents said they felt it was futile, that they would face the same dangers in other parts of Gaza.

Ovenight, Hamas' military wing also fired rockets from Shaja'ia toward Israel.
Israel and Hamas at ceasefire crossroad

The IDF is adding more troops to the incursion it began on Thursday, after more than a week of airstrikes.

One shell after another

One incoming shell followed another overnight in Shaja'ia, residents said, as they arrived on foot in a tide of humanity into Gaza City. They hunkered down in their homes in the dark and waited for daylight before fleeing.

Others arrived in bunches pressed into cars and onto donkey carts. Some stayed behind and flocked to U.N. schools.

Fawzy Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Aqsa TV on Saturday that there would be no truce or surrender while Israel is attacking.

Death toll spikes

As the battle between Israel and Hamas militants grows, the death toll in Gaza is rising at an accelerated clip.

On Saturday, 62 Palestinians died, according to Gaza health officials, as clashes between Israeli soldiers and Hamas Islamist fighters intensified, and Israeli tanks shelled targets in northern Gaza.

The overall death toll in Gaza has reached at least 386 since the Israeli military operation Protective Edge began July 8, according to Gaza health officials.

The battlefield has widened, as Hamas Islamist fighters have infiltrated nearby parts of Israel via underground tunnels. They continued the attacks on Saturday and clashed with Israeli troops after surfacing.

The use of the tunnels was the main reason Israel gave for launching its ground operation.

Attacking Israel

Militants are also continuing to fire rockets into Israel. On Saturday, one killed an Israeli in Negev and wounded four others, including an infant, Israeli authorities said.

Two Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas rocket or mortar fire in the past week's warfare.

Two more Israeli soldiers were killed late Saturday as they fought in Gaza, the IDF said. It brings the number of troops killed amid the ground operation to five. Another two Israeli soldiers were severely wounded on Saturday.

The IDF is adding more troops to the incursion. It called up tens of thousands of reservists at the start of Operation Protective Edge to prepare for the ground operations.

Their goal is to weaken Hamas' military capabilities and restore security for Israel, the IDF said.

Dying young

The Israeli government has repeatedly said that the IDF does not target civilians and works to avoid innocent casualties.

Yet in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, more than 70% of those killed in the hail of artillery and airstrikes have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

A fifth of them were children. More than 40% of Gaza's population is 14 years old or younger.

Mohamed Hamouda, 18, and Amr Hamouda, 10, were brothers. They died in an Israeli strike early Saturday in northern Gaza's Beit Lahya and were buried that evening as tank rounds pelted target nearby.

The Israeli army has warned residents to leave.

It has sent text messages to many Palestinians and dropped leaflets over residential areas, telling them to flee.

But many Gazans feel they have nowhere to go in the small, impoverished strip of land. Border crossings with Israel and Egypt are closed.

"We can die there; we can die here," says Ali Abu Darabli. "We all end up in the grave. It's more honorable to die at home."

As dangerous as Beit Lahya is, people are fleeing there from places that are worse.

1,770 rockets -- 2,300 strikes

Since Operation Protective Edge began, militants in Gaza have launched 1,770 rockets, the IDF said in a statement Saturday. The Israeli rocket defense system Iron Dome has intercepted 360 of them.

The IDF has struck "2,300 terror targets" in Gaza, the statement said. In its recently launched ground operations, the IDF targeted 95 rocket-launching sites and found 13 tunnels with a network of at least 34 shafts.

The Israeli military said late Saturday that since its ground war began Thursday, at least 70 "terrorists" were killed, including 20 in the past 24 hours. Thirteen more fighters were captured and brought to Israel for questioning.

Fighting has displaced more than 61,479 Palestinians, a figure harkening to the peak number from Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-09. That offensive killed 1,166 Palestinians, including 709 Hamas operatives, according to the United Nations.

Living with tank and air strikes

Residents have quickly learned how to recognize the differences in gunfire -- and which means a better chance of survival.

In his Gaza home, Ramez al-Madhoun listened Saturday to the thunder of Israeli tank shells battering the neighborhood -- some a little less than a mile away, some closer.

A few miles south of him, militants' rockets streamed into the sky -- about seven in 15 minutes -- toward Israel.

The tanks were gunning for tunnels leading into Israel and the Gazan attack squads that use them.

Al-Madhoun said he felt safer during Israeli airstrikes.

"If it was an airstrike, it would be more of a precision strike, but the tanks shells are more dangerous. They are destroying more than the airstrikes," he said.

Every 30 seconds to a minute, a shell landed in or around Beit Lahya. The local imam has told residents to stay home and pray, because the shelling has made it too dangerous to go outside.

For more stories like this, check out CNN.

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