Gaza City- Thousands of residents in besieged enclave of Gaza are fleeing for life amid intense bombardment by the Israeli war planes for the third day running, reports from the area said on Monday.
Scores of residential and commercial buildings have been reduced to rubble and tens of thousands of civilians have taken shelter in UN run schools and underground bunkers.
Some residents said they smelled the strong odour of white phosphorus, which was previously used by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza – a weapon prohibited by international humanitarian law.
An Aljazeera correspondent also reported itching in her throat, chest and eyes as soon as she entered the area, lending credence to reports of use of banned substance.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has reported that around 74,000 Palestinians have sought refuge in 64 schools and shelters operated by the agency in the Gaza Strip since Saturday.
The agency further stated Monday that significant damage has been inflicted on one of its schools that was providing shelter to displaced families in Gaza, following a direct bombing.
Earlier, Gaza’s Health Ministry reported 436 deaths and they included 91 children and 61 women, along with 2,271 injuries, including 244 children and 151 women.
Notably, the Israeli Forces earlier declared targeting over 500 strategic sites in the Gaza Strip between Sunday night and Monday morning.
Israeli air attacks and shelling aimed at houses and apartment buildings have displaced nearly two hundred thousand Palestinians in Gaza, UNWRA says, after latest upsurge in violence that began after Palestinian fighters stormed into Israel before dawn on Saturday in a series of devastating attacks on southern Israeli towns.
Retaliation was swift from Israeli forces, who launched air raids on the impoverished and densely-populated Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million people live crammed into a small piece of land.
Soon after black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit the Gaza sky from explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead. Gaza’s dead and wounded were carried into crumbling and overcrowded hospitals with severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment.
Streets were deserted apart from ambulances racing to the scenes of air strikes. Israel cut the power, plunging the city into darkness.
Surrounded by his grandchildren, Mahmud al-Sarsawi Sunday lay on a table in a corridor hooked up to an oxygen tube in a school-turned-bomb-shelter in the besieged Gaza Strip.
“We all came here to escape the Israeli airstrikes,” said the elderly man from the Shujaiyya neighbourhood, adding he was among about 70 people sheltering in the building for the second day from Israeli air strikes.
“The situation was terrifying, and we had no choice but to seek refuge,” added Sarsawi, 68, who is worried he may run out of oxygen, according to an AFP report.
He had taken cover in one of 44 schools run by UNRWA, which they have opened up as shelters.
“I’m telling the people of Gaza: get out of there now, because we’re about to act everywhere with all our force,” hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned late Saturday.
Amal Al-Sarsawi, 37, said they were still in shock, after hearing rockets thudding into Gaza. “We gathered what we needed from the house and rushed to the school,” said the mother-of-five.
She says they couldn’t sleep all night, as they tried to calm their frightened children.
“The situation is unbearable psychologically and economically,” she said.
A Gaza official said 13 towers and residential buildings had been destroyed, with 159 single residential units gone. Another 1,210 apartments were partially damaged in Israeli bombardment.
In one of the hallways, one woman who fled with 14 relatives from the north sat with her head in her hands. Unable to hold back tears, she said they couldn’t afford milk to feed two small babies.
“We haven’t eaten anything since yesterday morning. We barely escaped from home with some clothes,” she said.
The UN’s World Food Programme said Sunday it was “deeply concerned” about the impact of war on civilians struggling to get essential food supplies.
“While most shops in the affected areas in Palestine currently maintain one month of food stocks, these risk being depleted swiftly as people buy up food in fear of a prolonged conflict,” it said in a statement.
Hundreds lined up Sunday in front of bakers to get bread as the sound of explosions rang out around them.
“I am hosting more than 20 people, relatives, and friends who came from border areas,” said one man holding up five loaves of bread.
Leila Saqr, who lives in one of the areas singled out by the Israeli army, spent the night with her family and three children in the entrance to her building.