BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) : The bodies of 20 Palestinians were recovered from the rubble of destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, as Gazans took stock of a 23-day Israeli assault that has killed 1,360 people so far with no end in sight.
The announcement by Gaza medical teams of the recovery of the bodies in Jabaliya came only hours after Israeli shelling killed 17 in a crowded market in Shujaiyya, as thousands took advantage of a temporary Israeli ceasefire to shop on the third day of the Muslim Eid holiday.
Ambulances raced racing towards the site of the blast as medics and residents frantically tried to gather up the dead bodies.
An AFP correspondent saw at least five bodies being shoved onto stretchers and driven off to hospitals or mortuaries as quickly as the ambulances could take them. Even civilian cars were used to evacuate the dead and the wounded.
“The first shell hit, and people immediately started evacuating the wounded,” said a man called Abu Maysarah. “They (the Israelis) saw them evacuating the wounded, and they struck them again,” he said as a nearby building burned, belting out smoke as debris littered the street.
A bloodied, limp lifeless body lay in a pool of petrol and mud, his head crushed.
“There were journalists over here, and they hit them as well as they stood next to the ambulances,” he shouted.
TV images showed at least one journalist lying motionless in the street, his flak jacket with “Press” on the front soaked in blood.
“We want a battle,” Abu Maysarah cried, furious.
“We want Qassam to strike back, in the heart of Tel Aviv!” he said of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.
It was not the first time this battered district between Gaza City and the border had taken the brunt of Israel’s 23-day assault.
On July 20, more than 100 people were killed in the district on the single bloodiest day in Gaza in more than five years, as Israel staged a blistering offensive, pounding the district to dust and leaving bodies scattered in the streets.
Ministry of Health Spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra figures said Wednesday evening that the total death toll had surpassed 1,360 and 7,677 injured. Of those, 130 were killed and 400 injured on Wednesday alone, as even the temporary Israeli ceasefire failed to slow the carnage.
More than 240,000 — or 1 in 8 Gazans — have been displaced.
Israel earlier announced a four-hour temporary humanitarian ceasefire from 3-7 p.m. However, it exempted all areas in which its forces were actively operating, leading Hamas to denounce the move as “worthless.”
Despite the ceasefire announcement, around 34 Palestinians were killed by Israeli shelling during the period.
Israeli shelling from land and sea, as well as airstrikes, continued into the night.
Ismail al-Qosas was killed in Israeli shelling on northern Gaza.
Mayar Jamal Abu Musbeh, 9, and Mohammad Taysir Abu Haza, 25, were killed in shelling on houses in Deir al-Balah, while Alaa Abd al-Karim al-Qarra, 23, died of injuries sustained earlier in Gaza City.
UN school bombarded
Earlier on Wednesday, another 16 people were killed when at least two Israeli tank shells slammed into a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north, in an attack angrily denounced by the UN chief and the world body’s agency for Palestinian refugees.
The attack was also denounced by the White House in a carefully-worded statement which avoided mentioning Israel.
“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children, and UN humanitarian workers,” a statement said.
“They’re bombing houses, homes, schools — there’s no protection,” said Moin al-Athamna, one of those who had been staying at the school when the attack occurred.
Inside one classroom, two young men wearing Palestinian boy scout scarves were engaged in the grisly task of collecting body parts. Their ungloved hands were stained with blood as they picked up chunks of flesh and put them into thin plastic bags.
“They were all kids in there, young people,” said Hisham al-Masri. “Why would they do this? Where can people go?”
It was the second time in a week that a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees had been hit, and the sixth in the last two weeks.
Doctors at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Jabaliya town had scarcely finished treating the wounded when casualties began arriving from the market.
Earlier, doctors had treated dozens of wounded from the strike at the school.
“There were something like 30 or 40 wounded brought here, most of them women, children and the elderly,” said nurse Abed al-Bahtiti.
“We had to amputate some people’s legs immediately.”
Scout volunteer Abdullah Kallash, 22, had been at the school picking up body parts after the blast.
“Many of the wounded had injuries to their lower half, to their legs,” he said.
Back at the school, children and men gathered to watch the grim spectacle of dead donkeys being lifted by crane and dumped unceremoniously into a skip, their entrails hanging out.
Queueing for bread
The area stank, but the school was still full of displaced people who had nowhere else to go.
Despite the carnage in Shujaiyya, others in Gaza City were able to make the most of the lull to buy much-needed provisions, with men queueing for hours in the searing heat to buy bread, with hundreds of people in each bread line.
“We’ve been here for four hours waiting to buy bread. We fled from Shujaiyya and are staying with relatives, 50 of us in one house,” said Mussa Jundiya, a father of five.
“We have just enough simple food, thank God, but no means of cooking because there’s no electricity since they hit the power station.”
Others in the queue said they had no roof over their heads.
“We’re sleeping on this,” said 28-year-old Rami al-Ghula, pointing at the ground.
“We’re living in the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital.”
AFP contributed to this report.