The family, and a group of neighbors who also fled, scooped up all the young children but in the chaotic escape a one-year-old was dropped, breaking his leg.
“We didn’t have time to look for our shoes, we had to save our souls,” said 20-year-old Israa Al-Massri, who had already been begging her mother that they needed to leave for hours.
More than 38,000 Palestinians have had to flee their homes since fighting erupted a week ago between Israel and Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, sheltering in schools, mosques and the homes of family and friends, according to the United Nations.
They have limited access to water, food, hygiene and health services and the Covid-19 pandemic is still a grave concern in the Gaza Strip.
Many of those leaving their homes are from northern Gaza amid ongoing fears of a ground invasion by Israeli forces. They are moving south, deeper into the Gaza Strip to Gaza City. But nowhere is safe.
On Sunday morning at least 42 people were killed when Israeli warplanes struck several apartment blocks in Gaza City in the single deadliest strike since the conflict began on May 10. Residents said the attack came without warning. Rescuers worked through the day combing the rubble for survivors or bodies.
In Gaza, 197 people, including 58 children and 34 women have been killed since last Monday and in Israel 11 people, including one child, have been killed. Israel says it is targeting Hamas, its weaponry and infrastructure. It says it has killed dozens of militants including some of the group’s leaders.
“The intensity of the conflict is something we have not seen before,” Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said, “with nonstop airstrikes in densely populated Gaza and rockets reaching big cities in Israel.”
As Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling intensified along the border Thursday night, Beit Hanoun residents retreated to neighbors’ homes a little farther away until eventually about 70 people were sheltered in the Al-Massri home, about ¾ of a mile from the Israeli border.
“What they did in 50 days (in 2014) they did in five days,” said Arafat Al-Massri, the family patriarch, referring to the last war fought between Israel and Hamas. “This fear is the reason we fled.”
Once they fled their home, the Al-Massri family and the others walked for about 30 nerve-racking minutes as the sound of airstrikes and shelling followed them until they reached a refugee camp. From there they went to a United Nations-run school but the classrooms and halls were already packed with displaced people.
The group spent the rest of the night sleeping in the school courtyard with no blankets or mattresses.
Eventually they found their way to another UN school, for students with disabilities, where more than 200 people were sheltering.
Some 48 UN schools are now hosting displaced Palestinians but there is a shortage of assistance for people, many of whom fled their homes with nothing.
Israeli officials said Sunday that between 20-30% of Israelis who live in the small towns around the Gaza border have fled their homes, and that it was less than 10% in the larger southern city of Ashkelon. The city has had more than 580 rockets fired at it since the start of the current escalation.
Since their flight, the Al-Massri family had eaten one meal by Saturday evening: three pita loaves, some yogurt and white cheese for each person, distributed by a local charity. But they weren’t complaining.
“I don’t need food, but I need safety,” said Aline Al-Massri, 10-years-old.
Afterward, one-year-old Monjid Al-Massri—now with a cast covering his entire leg—was playing with a metal dish when he dropped it with a clang. Ms. Al-Massri jumped up in fear and crumpled into the fetal position, crying. Her feet still bore the injuries of having walked barefoot.
Local officials have warned about food, medicine and fuel shortages in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land that is under semi-permanent blockade, which means that even before the recent attacks any goods allowed in were tightly controlled.
The UN has called on the Israeli authorities and Hamas to immediately allow it and other humanitarian groups to bring aid into Gaza.
The border crossing used to bring in humanitarian aid and personnel has been closed by Israel since May 10, according to the UN.
On Saturday, Israel targeted a high-rise building housing Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. The AP called on Israel to provide evidence backing its claim that Hamas was active within the building and said that in 15 years of being in the building, the AP had seen no evidence to support that claim. The strike was strongly condemned around the world.
Nada Abu Nada, a semiretired chemistry professor in Gaza City, was awoken at a little past 1 a.m. Sunday by her building’s security guard telling them Israel had just given them 15 minutes to leave their apartment before the tower block would be targeted.
The building had no electricity and its elevator door had been blown off in a previous attack. So they ran down 11 flights of stairs and took a taxi to her daughter’s house where they are now staying.
“Once we saw that they struck a tower that no one would have expected them to target, we no longer expected any place to be safe,” she said, referring to the tower housing media organizations. “When they banged on our door I knew they were coming to tell us that we had to leave our home.”
It was the first time they had ever had to flee the apartment they have lived in for 23 years.
“People have nothing but their homes,” Ms. Nada said.
The airstrike didn’t level the building but residents are still unsure if it is safe to return home.
She knows she is luckier than most because she can stay with her daughter in a house that isn’t too crowded.
“In the schools, people are on top of each other, there is no water, there is no hygiene,” said the 62-year-old. “There’s no rest.”
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint.
our App Now!!