Gazans recall 'unimaginable ferocity' of Israeli bombing during hostage attack

A day after Israeli forces rescued four hostages held by Hamas militants in Nusserat, Gazans described heavy bombardment during the attack, which left the streets in chaos and dozens of Palestinians dead and wounded.

Bayan Abu Amr, 32, was walking on the edge of Nusayrat's main market on Saturday, holding her 18-month-old son, Mohammad, when she was surrounded by a barrage of aircraft that the Israeli military said were targeting the militants to ensure the safe evacuation of hostages and special forces.

“People were running like the end of the world. I didn’t know where to go,” said Ms. Abu Amr, who was visiting the family of her uncle, whose two sons had died. “Children were screaming, women were running and falling.”

She recalled how she and other Gazans managed to climb onto a passing pickup truck that was trying to transport people to safety amid the airstrikes. She said a girl was separated from her mother in the chaos, while an elderly man lost control and fell from the truck to the ground.

When Ms. Abu Amr finally returned home hours later with her son, she was surprised to find him still alive. “I will never take my son out again,” she said.

In an effort to rescue the hostages, Israeli forces entered two residential buildings where they were being held, according to Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. Admiral Hagari said that several families lived in the apartments and that armed Hamas fighters were guarding the hostages, making it “impossible to get close to the hostages without harming Gaza civilians.”

The exact death toll remained unclear as hospitals were in chaos and health officials tried to gather statistics. Gaza health officials reported more than 200 deaths from the attacks; the Israeli military said they knew of fewer than 100 casualties but did not specify whether the casualties were deaths, wounded or both. Neither side provided details on the number of fighters and civilians.

The corridors and hallways of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, the last major medical center in central Gaza, remained “packed” with new patients on Sunday, according to hospital official Khalil Daqran, who added that most of the bodies had been buried or claimed by relatives.

Abdelkarim al-Harazin, 28, a doctor at the facility, said the facility was already overcrowded before Israel's rescue operation in nearby Nusserat and is now even more overcrowded.

“The intensity of the bombing was unimaginable,” Dr. Harazin said. “The entire hospital became a giant emergency room with people coming in to look for their dead relatives.”

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When the Al-Aqsa Mosque was overwhelmed, many of the wounded were taken to a nearby field hospital run by the International Medical Corps, according to Javed Ali, an official with the International Medical Corps.

Diana Abu Shaban, 28, was about to hang out clothes near the tent where she had taken refuge in Nusserat when she first heard gunfire. As the attacks escalated, she told her daughters to hide, but then she realized the flimsy tent could not protect them. She rushed with her children to the nearby Al-Awda Medical Center, desperately looking for safety.

She said her husband, Said, had left home that morning to go to the market, where Palestinian residents said the attacks had been particularly intense.

“I heard many, many missiles,” Ms. Abu Shaaban said. “I thought my husband was going to be killed or injured.”

She said that after two hours, the bombing stopped and she and her children left the hospital. They later found her husband, who had survived, hiding in a nearby shop.

Abdul Rahman Bassem Masri, 25, who lives on the northern edge of Deir el-Balah, said Saturday was the worst day he had experienced since the war began.

Mr. Masri said he, his mother and his brother were driving back from his uncle's house and were about to return home when an airstrike bomb hit the ground outside his home.

Video shot by a friend who was in a car at the time showed smoke rising from behind the building. “At that moment, I lost hope that we could continue to live here,” Mr Masri said.

Another Gazan living in Nusserat, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said he and more than 10 family members hid inside for hours as heavy airstrikes hit the neighborhood. He said he was not aware of any hostages being held in the area.

After the bombing subsided, he went to the destroyed market area, where he said he saw blood and bodies strewn across the streets. He said Gazans there cursed not only Israel but also Hamas, blaming them for bringing about the disaster.

He said neither Israel nor Hamas cared about the destruction, they were just attacking each other. The victims were ordinary people, he added.

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