While the world's attention is focused on the tragic events in Ukraine, the fighting in Gaza has entered its 13th, and most deadly day, with at least 50 Palestinians killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in a Gaza neighborhood, where "bodies were strewn in the street and thousands fled for shelter to a hospital packed with wounded, witnesses and health officials said." Reuters reports that the mass casualties in Shejaia, in northeast Gaza, were the heaviest since Israel launched its offensive, since expanded to a land offensive including tanks and troops. This has brought the total dead count on the Gaza side to over 400.
A few hours later, Israel agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce in Shejaiya. The ceasefire was supposed to last from 13:30 to 15:30 local time an Israeli military spokesman said. But a BBC team on the ground reported an exchange of fire less than an hour after the truce began.
According to elderly locals, today's Israeli shelling was the fiercest they had seen since the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured Gaza. Shifa hospital's director, Naser Tattar, said 17 children, 14 women and four elderly were among the 50 dead, and about 400 people were wounded in the Israeli assault.
Gaza's Health Ministry officials said at least 385 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed in the 13-day conflict and about 2,600 have been wounded.
On Israel's side, two civilians have been killed by cross-border fire and five soldiers have died in fighting. More than 50 Israeli troops have been wounded, hospital officials said.
Thousands fled Shejaia, some by foot and others piling into the backs of trucks and sitting on the hoods of cars filled with families trying to get away. Several people rode out of the neighborhood of 100,000 in the shovel of a bulldozer.
Video given to Reuters by a local showed at least a dozen corpses, including three children, lying in rubble-filled streets, though the footage could not be verified independently.
An AFP reporter comments on the ground:
Just back from #Shejaiya, horrible scenes. Burnt bodies in the streets, buildings destroyed. Ceasefire a joke. Shelling, gunfire throughout
— Sara Hussein (@sarahussein) July 20, 2014
Meanwhile the IDF is denying all responsibility for the mass killings of civilians, instead saying it had warned the locals to evacuate in advance:
Days ago, we warned civilians in Shuja'iya to evacuate. Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2014
Furthermore, the IDF released the following schematic to explain the layout of local militants and rockets within Shejaiya.
Take a look inside: Hamas uses Shuja'iya as a fortress for its weapons. pic.twitter.com/gX5MC8DXCw
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2014
In other developments surrounding Gaza, the BBC reports that:
- Hamas claims it carried out a major attack on Israeli forces in Gaza, causing multiple casualties. There is no comment from the Israeli military on this
- There has been almost constant shelling by Israel in the past few hours, with tanks and troops reported on the move
- Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israel, with one landing in the city of Ashkelon
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to arrive in Qatar later to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Perhaps most disturbing, and something which has gotten zero coverage compared to the ongoing chaos in Donetsk, is that Israel's Government Press Office on Saturday warned foreign journalists it was not responsible for their safety in the Gaza Strip, where the Jewish state has launched an offensive against Palestinian militants.
"Gaza and its vicinity are a battleground. Covering the hostilities exposes journalists to life-threatening danger," an e-mailed Government Press Office (GPO) statement said. "Israel is not in any way responsible for injury or damage that may occur as a result of field reporting."
The GPO, which accredits journalists based in Israel, many of whom also cover events in the Palestinian Territories, charged Islamist group Hamas was using journalists as human shields and advised reporters to take "every possible precaution."
In other words, if there are no foreign journalists covering the atrocities in Gaza, that would be ideal. In the meantime, it is best to distract the public's attention with some speculation that the Separatist rebels in Ukraine are doing the same, and try to provoke fury there, but not here.
Below are some photos documenting the sheer destruction in Shejaiya:
Shejaiya, during a brief ceasefire. Horrendous scenes of destruction. pic.twitter.com/J1nXiumfVq
— Paul Adams (@BBCPaulAdams) July 20, 2014
— Rami (@RamiAlLolah) July 20, 2014
The district of Shejaiya came under heavy Israeli bombardment overnight, Palestinians say
The Israeli military says the ground offensive has been expanded to destroy a Hamas tunnel network
An air strike early on Sunday morning killed four people, including two children, according to medics
Israelis who support the offensive faced off with those against it in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening
Finally, the reason why it is all about to get much worse, is that in an interview with Cannel 2 TV, the Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said the military may take control of Hamas-controlled territory for several months to “dismantle the terror army.” Needless to say such an act would provoke a firestorm, literally, of desperation from Hamas which would almost certainly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in the latest sharp escalation of a conflict that goes back countless years.