Israel’s warplanes pounded Gaza on Friday after talks to extend a week-old truce with Hamas collapsed, sending wounded and dead Palestinians into hospitals and others onto the streets to seek safety.
Eastern areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza came under intense bombardment as the deadline lapsed shortly after dawn, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, Reuters journalists in the city said. Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, fleeing for shelter further west.
In the north of the enclave, previously the main war zone, huge plumes of smoke rose above the ruins, seen from across the fence in Israel. The rattle of gunfire and thud of explosions rang out above the sound of barking dogs.
Sirens blared across southern Israel as militants fired rockets from the coastal enclave into towns.
Israel and Hamas accused each other of wrecking the negotiations, though the White House singled out the Palestinian militant group, saying it had failed to produce a new list of hostages to release to enable an extension of the truce.
The U.N. said the fighting would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency. “Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva, said.
Within hours of the truce expiring, Gaza health officials reported that 109 people had been killed and dozens wounded in air strikes.
Israel’s military said its ground, air and naval forces had struck more than 200 what it called “terror targets” in the enclave since the morning.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he had been in one of Israel’s war jets during the assault to watch it up close. “The results are impressive. Hamas only understands force and therefore we will continue to act until we achieve the goals of the war,” he said.
Egyptian and regional sources told Reuters Israel has informed several Arab states that it wants to carve out a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of Gaza’s border to prevent future attacks as part of proposals for the enclave after war ends.
Medics and witnesses said Friday’s bombing was most intense in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been sheltering from fighting further north. Houses in central and northern areas were also hit.
“Anas, my son!” cried the mother of Anas Anwar al-Masri, a boy lying on a stretcher with a head injury in the corridor of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. “I don’t have anyone but you!”
‘YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED’
Further south in Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.
At the nearby Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the first wave of wounded were men and boys.