Death Toll Mounts Amid IDF Strikes

Five people were killed Saturday morning in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah, Palestinian sources said, while six died in an aerial attack Friday night, according to a top source at the Health Ministry in Gaza.

From the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense through Sunday morning Israel time, an estimated 52 Palestinians have been killed, including nine on Saturday night, and 400 wounded; A third of the rockets fired from Gaza have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Red Cross sources in Gaza say several medical centers, including the emergency facility in Jabalya, suffered collateral damage from the strikes on Saturday.

People living in the northern and eastern parts of Gaza Strip began to flee their homes on Friday as heavy fighting raged nearby. Some told Haaretz of ceaseless attacks from sea, land and air mere meters from them, "shaking the ground and the walls."

Among the people who fled are the Samouni family, who live in the eastern part of Zeitoun, a neighborhood in Gaza City. During Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-09, 21 members of the Samouni family were killed when the commander of the Givati Brigade, Ilan Malka, ordered the building bombed. Based on photos from a drone, Malka had concluded that the building was sheltering armed Palestinians. A mother in the Samouni family says she and her children are now reliving the trauma of 2009.

The strike on the Hamas government headquarters Saturday morning was also watched tensely by neighbors. On Thursday a man living in the area told Haaretz that people were expecting Israeli jets to bomb the building, a symbol of civilian government. In 2008 the government buildings, then situated in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel el-Hawa, were destroyed in a series of strikes. About three to four months later, the government resumed operations in an existing building in the northern Gaza City neighborhood of Nasser.

"It was a very hard night," S. told Haaretz. "The bombing didn't stop. At about five I was preparing for prayer, then heard an explosion nearby and figured it was the government building." Two hours later, he says, the Israel Air Force bombed the soccer stadium in Palestine Square. Less than 200 meters away is a mosque, which was packed at the time.

"The shock warped the neighbors' doors, he said. "We leave the windows open, so the glass didn't break, but the neighbors' windows broke. From the shock, bricks fell onto cars and damaged them. One dented our car."

S. said that Gazans had been buoyed by the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil. "Today the Tunisian foreign minister came and tomorrow other delegations will be coming from Egypt. When I watch Israeli television, I feel they don't understand the change that Egypt and Tunisia have undergone. They're still thinking in terms of despots dependent on the United States, and don't realize that the opinion of the Egyptian people plays an important role in Egyptian policy."

Several medical centers were damaged during the fighting of the last three days, Physicians for Human Rights said in a press release. Dr. Bashar Murad, director of emergency medical services of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told the NGO that there had been no direct strikes on their emergency services or centers.

However, several medical facilities had suffered collateral damage, including the al-Quds Hospital in the Tel el-Hawa district, said Murad. "Most of the windows were shattered. Some of the roofs collapsed or were damaged from the shock of the bombings (not direct hits ). The Jabalya emergency and rescue center was also damaged."

The patients are afraid in the very place they're supposed to feel cared for, he said, noting, "We received no notice or request to evacuate before the attack."

"The damage to infrastructure, such as the roads, creates obstacles and delays in reaching the wounded," he added. "Sometimes roads are blocked by a bomb crater, or rubble from destroyed houses and ambulances can't get through. The paramedics have to go on foot and carry the injured at risk to their own lives, and naturally reach the injured later at a time when every minute can be the difference between life and death.

"One of the greatest dangers is when a place is bombed for a second time when medical teams are already arriving," said Murad. "There have been cases where the same place was bombed twice, with a few minutes to half an hour or an hour in between, which endangers rescue teams."

According to Palestinian health authorities, as of Saturday morning 13 civilians, including six children, have been killed since the start of the offensive. As of Friday afternoon, the number of wounded had reached 257, of whom 253 are civilians, including 62 children and 42 women.

Two children, Udai Nasser, 15, and Fares el-Basiyuni, 8, were killed on Thursday night in the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza after a strike near their home, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Earlier Thursday evening, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, Marwan al-Komsan, 52, a teacher employed by the United Nations refugee agency, was killed while visiting his brother. A mortar shell or explosive fell in a field near the home of the brother, 72, who was seriously injured.

In Zeitoun 10-month-old Hanan Tafesh died Thursday night of head injuries sustained in a strike the day before. Her mother and two others were wounded. Camel Makat, 23, died Friday of a heart attack after a fighter jet bombed a field near his home in northwestern Gaza City. On Friday evening 2-year-old Walid al-Abdullah died of injuries sustained the day before in a strike on the village of al-Kara. In Israeli strikes on Wednesday on Zeitoun, Ranin Arafat, 3, was killed along with Amar Masharawi, 11 months, and Hiba Masharawi-Turk, 19, who was pregnant. Also on Wednesday, Mahmoud Hmad 61, was killed in a field in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.