Gaza City: Frantic families across Gaza cowered in any shelter they could find on Monday morning as the Israeli army’s onslaught against Hamas fighters continued into another day.
The dawn sky was lit by orange streaks from tank shells and warplane missiles while Hamas heavy machine guns took speculative shots at Israeli jets above the enclave of 1.5 million people.
Israeli infantry and Islamist militia fought in the Zeitoun suburb of Gaza City amid anxiety that the new day could bring an escalation of clashes in other parts of the territory’s main city.
Only a few Hamas fighters ventured out overnight as Gaza streets were mostly blacked out by power cuts, residents said.
Fear was stoked up further by recorded messages sent to people’s telephones.
“The Israeli army will use stronger force against Hamas,” said one such message received early Monday.
Another message sent was “Hamas’s leadership is bringing you destruction.”
For most of the population, it was another night of looking for any place that might be able to resist a shell.
“Our life is filled with fear,” said Abdelrahim Malaka, a resident of the surrounded city. “We call on the world to have mercy on us and save us from the Israeli war. What did the children do wrong to have their houses bombed?”
“We are all scared because we can die at any moment,” said Abu Abed al-Safadi, another resident.
“We saw a woman in our neighbourhood raising a white flag but the Israelis still fired at them. I don’t know what happened to them.”
Yehia Anis Hussein said: “We are shaking like our children. This is intolerable.”
Families with a safe haven away from Gaza City, and other smaller Palestinian towns in the north where the fighting has been concentrated, fled ahead of the Israeli advance.
Thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged and cannot be used in the bitterly cold winter nights after being on the receiving end of Israeli attacks.
Dozens of families fled in cars and trucks yesterday. Some have also been seen walking down roads, carrying small children in their arms as they headed to southern districts which have been generally quieter.
According to Gaza emergency medical services, civilians make up a huge proportion of the 512 dead killed so far in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which started on 27 December.
Hospital authorities say at least 87 of the dead are children.
Moawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza medical emergency services, said the toll was probably a lot higher as ambulances could not get out to collect all the dead and injured.
Such was the case west of Gaza City in the early hours of Monday when witnesses reported that two women and two children were among five people wounded in an air strike.
Five members of the same family, including a 14-year-old girl, were killed when an Israeli tank shell hit their car near Gaza City on Sunday.
Stores are closed -- mainly because they have nothing left to sell -- and most people only go out to buy bread. But UN agencies said only 10 bakeries were still operating across Gaza because of the lack of flour and fuel.
The World Food Programme said it was going to concentrate on sending high protein biscuits and canned meat and fish, which can be eaten cold, because hardly any house had enough gas to cook food.
The main Shifa hospital is also running on back-up generators as even the trickle of mains electricity it has survived on for several months has now ended, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories said.
The hospital does not have fuel to heat wards at night and the fuel they have for their own generators will run out in about five days.
“The hospitals warn that the generators are close to collapse,” said the UN.
The UN agency for the Palestinian territories said it had donated 75,000 litres of fuel to the Gaza water utilities company so it could power water and sewer treatment plants. But less than half has been distributed because tanker drivers are too scared to go out on the roads.
Israel poured ground troops into Gaza late on Saturday, widening an eight-day campaign of bombing Hamas targets aimed at ending the Islamic movement’s rocket fire across the border.
However, the Israeli government says there is not yet a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza as aid agencies claim.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a cabinet meeting on Sunday that his country would not let a crisis develop.