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Palestinians described yesterday how civilians were killed while hiding in their homes as Israeli ground troops stormed through northern Gaza suburbs this weekend searching for Hamas militants. More than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis have died after Israeli troops entered Gaza to try to halt rocket attacks.
Raad Abu Seif held his 12-year-old daughter in his arms as she died after she was shot in the stomach as she stood several metres from a window. “I stroked Safa’s hair,” said Mr Abu Seif, his voice hoarse. “And then her eyes rolled backwards in her head.”
“I tried to massage her heart for a minute, two minutes, three minutes, I don’t remember. And then I felt there was nothing.” Mr Abu Seif, 40, described how his extended family had bunkered down inside their home in the Zimo Square area of Jabaliya when it was infiltrated by Israeli ground troops supported by tanks in the early hours of Saturday.
Mr Abu Seif, who used to work in a car paint shop, and his wife, Sama, 38, told their seven children to stay down and avoid looking out of the windows. But in the afternoon Safa had grown in confidence and decided to go upstairs, where her uncle and his family were also waiting for the fighting to stop.
“She was just at his front door when there was an explosion outside and the windows were blown in,” Mr Abu Seif said. “She was still about four metres from a window and up on the first floor but there must have been an Israeli sniper on a rooftop because he fired one shot and hit her in the stomach.”
The girl’s family had called an ambulance but it came under fire and was not able to reach the house.
When he tried to carry the girl out of the house, under a white flag, he said troops in an Israeli tank fired warning shots above their heads forcing them to dive for cover. Shortly after that Safa died in her father’s arms.
The young girl was one of more than 100 Palestinians killed in the past five days of intense fighting as Palestinian militants have fired around 150 rockets into Israel. One Israeli civilian and two Israeli soldiers have died.
Despite international criticism and calls for restraint on both sides, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, said yesterday that an even broader Gaza operation was possible, aimed at crushing militant rocket squads but also to “weaken the Hamas rule, in the right circumstances, even to bring it down”.
But many Palestinian families described an Israeli army on the rampage in various suburbs of Gaza and claimed that Israeli snipers had shot people inside their homes.
Hatem Abu Shbek described how his nephew, Eyad, 16, and niece, Jacqueline, 17, were shot in his sitting room. He insisted the distance to the window was several metres and said that Israeli snipers must have been targeting them.
Another Palestinian teenager said he was shot three times when he approached the Zimo Square area to see what was happening. Ahmed Abu Radwan, 18, was speaking from a hospital bed at Kemal Adwan hospital. He said his neighbour, Jihad Abu Hilayel, also a teenager, was killed.
Yesterday, the normally bustling streets of Gaza City were empty as schools were closed and people were advised to stay at home. The sound of verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, coming from mosque loudspeakers mingled with the roar of Israeli warplanes and drones in the sky above.
Hundreds gathered outside Gaza’s hospitals waiting for bodies to be brought out of morgues for burial. Many, like schoolteacher Tawfek Shaban, a 44-year-old father of five, were holding small radios, listening to news broadcasts. “Shame on the Arabs, shame on the Muslims, shame on humanity .. When will they act to stop Israel?”
In yesterday’s fighting, Israeli aircraft struck the empty offices of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, in a pre-dawn raid in Gaza City. No one was hurt but the attack was seen as a tough message to the Hamas leadership, which has refused to halt rocket barrages at a growing area of southern Israel.
After nightfall, Israeli aircraft struck targets around Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp and at Jabaliya, further north, where five people were wounded, at least two of them militants, Palestinian security officials said. The Israeli military said it fired at gunmen in Jabaliya, hitting one person. It had no immediate comment on any attack on Shati.
Egypt has co-operated with an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, but opened its sealed border crossing with the territory yesterday to allow some of the Palestinian wounded access to medical care. Egypt sent 27 ambulances to the Rafah crossing to transfer between 150 and 200 wounded, said Imad Kharboush, a medical official at a hospital in El-Arish, near the Israeli border.