GAZA – Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed or wounded in a series of Israeli air strikes on the Jabalia refugee camp in besieged Gaza, local officials and media reported.
“Israeli warplanes attacked several residential buildings in the centre of the camp leading to the death and injury of around 400 people, mainly children,” Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported on Tuesday.
The strikes led to hundreds of casualties, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman Iyad al Bozom told a press briefing, adding Israeli warplanes hit apartment blocks in the refugee camp and the victims were mostly women and children.
He said Israeli warplanes destroyed the entire residential square known as Block 6.
“More than 50 martyrs and around 150 wounded and dozens under the rubble, in a heinous Israeli massacre that targeted a large area of homes in Jabalia camp in the northern (Gaza) Strip,” a statement from the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Officials at Gaza’s Indonesian Hospital said more than 50 Palestinians had been killed and 150 wounded when tonnes of aerial explosives struck residential dwellings in the heart of the camp in urbanised northern Gaza.
Video footage from the scene showed dozens of bodies recovered from the rubble. Dozens of onlookers could be seen standing on the edges of two vast craters as people searched for survivors.
Footage obtained by the Reuters news agency showed a swathe of destruction, with deep bomb craters and gutted, multi-storey cement dwellings as people dug through mounds of rubble with their hands in search of loved ones, dead or alive.
Wails filled the dusty air as volunteers clawed through the concrete blocks and twisted metal at the Jabalia refugee camp in a desperate search for bodies and survivors, with AFP video footage showing dozens of corpses being recovered.
Gaza authorities said on Tuesday around 150 people have been wounded and dozens were buried under the rubble, and condemned what they called “a heinous Israeli massacre” at the Jabalia camp.
Medics lay the dead swaddled in white cloth in a long line outside the hospital, located in the adjacent town of Beit Lahiya, as the wounded including wailing children were rushed inside for treatment amid scenes of pandemonium.
Israel defends massacre
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, speaking to CNN, confirmed the Israeli strike on Jabalia refugee camp, claiming without any proof that Israel was targeting a senior Hamas commander.
Hecht defended the civilian massacre at the site, stunning host Wolf Blitzer.
“But you know that there are a lot of refugees, a lot of innocent civilians — men, women and children — in that refugee camp as well, right?” Blitzer asked Hecht.
“This is the tragedy of war, Wolf. We as you know, we’ve been saying for days, ‘Move south. Civilians who are not involved with Hamas, please move south’,” Hecht replied.
Jabalia houses families of refugees from wars with Israel dating back to 1948. It is home to 116,000 people in an area covering 1.4 square kilometres (little more than half a square mile) — about the size of London’s Hyde Park.
‘Transporting remains of children … ‘
Ragheb Aqal, a Jabalia resident, described the strikes as “an earthquake” which shook the entire refugee camp.
“I went and saw the destruction … homes buried under the rubble and body parts and martyrs and wounded in huge numbers,” the 41-year-old said.
“There’s no exaggerating when they talk about hundreds of martyrs and wounded. People were still “transporting the remains of children, women and elderly,” he added.
Egypt lashed out at Israel’s “inhumane targeting of a residential block”. Sources said Cairo would open the Rafah crossing to treat wounded Palestinians in what would be the first time it has agreed to open the border to civilians since the conflict broke out.
Qatar, a key mediator in the crisis, condemned the Israeli attack on Jabalia and warned expanded strikes on the besieged Palestinian enclave would “undermine mediation and de-escalation efforts”.
Palestine Presidency said the Israeli crimes and atrocities “will not break the resolve of the Palestinian people.
“Instead, it said, they are determined to uphold their legitimate rights, resist the occupation, establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and ensure the right of return for refugees.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Health Ministry in Gaza said 8,525 people have been killed in the narrow strip of land since Israel launched its bombing campaign on October 7.
The Israeli army has expanded its indiscriminate air and ground attacks on Gaza, which has been under relentless air strikes since the surprise operation by the Palestinian resistance group Hamas on October 7.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing calls for a ceasefire, saying it will be a “surrender” to Hamas.
An Israeli blockade has also cut Gaza off from fuel, electricity, and water supplies, and reduced aid deliveries are unable to satisfy the needs of some 2.3 million Palestinians there.