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'Is there any safe place?' Residents say Gaza is under attack like never before

A young Palestinian walks through rubble in a heavily bombarded neighborhood following overnight Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City's Shati refugee camp early on Monday.
Mahmud Hams
AFP via Getty Images
A young Palestinian walks through rubble in a heavily bombarded neighborhood following overnight Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City's Shati refugee camp early on Monday.

JERUSALEM — The pleas from inside Gaza over Israel's relentless bombardments have plunged the densely populated areas into a humanitarian crisis.

The enclave now is under complete siege. Israel has cut off food, water, fuel and electricity in retaliation for the attack Hamas carried out in Israel's southern towns. The territory's main power plant ran out of fuel Wednesday, plunging Gaza's 2.3 million residents into darkness.

Videos from inside Gaza show entire blocks reduced to rubble and children being pulled from the debris. Some 24 families have been wiped out since Saturday.

The infrastructure, already weakened by a 16-year blockade and four previous wars since 2008, is now being crushed. It's something Palestinians say they've never seen before.

"The airstrikes are everywhere, the bombs are everywhere, the smell of death is everywhere," said Wajeh Abu Zarefeh, a journalist in Gaza.

Last night he found himself stranded in the darkness outside the main hospital. Abu Zarefeh says it was too dark for people to move, and fuel is running out for transportation.

"We are trying to survive," he said. "The Israeli attacks are at every inch of the Gaza Strip so there are no safe places, nowhere to escape and to run."

The war was sparked by a surprise attack from Hamas that saw fighters flow into Israel on trucks and on paragliders. It has left at least 1,300 people dead in one of the worst attacks in Israel's history. Israel's retaliatory airstrikes have killed almost as many Palestinians in Gaza in six days of war. More than half are women and children. Many are still buried under the rubble.

Meanwhile, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said this is just the start of what's to come. The country is preparing for a ground invasion. It's a reaction that the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem is calling a "criminal policy of revenge." The International Committee of the Red Cross says the lifeline for Gaza is beginning to fade.

The journalist Abu Zarafeh said his neighborhood is too dangerous to go back to now. He's lost touch with some of his children because communications were cut off.

"This conflict is between Hamas and Israel. So why is Israel destroying our homes? It is destroying whole neighborhoods?" Abu Zarafeh said. "This is collective punishment."

His story is the story of every family in Gaza right now. They flee one bombarded area only to find the airstrikes following them to the next neighborhood and then the next.

It's a nightmare NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, is living. As he tries to cover this war for the world, he's also trying to survive it. He tried to evacuate his family from their home.

"I took them from the house, and I started to just think, where am I going to take them? Where am I going to hide them? Is there any safe place in Gaza?" he said over a scratchy phone line.

Finally he just gave up and took them back home.

There used to be some safe places to seek shelter, routes you could take out of danger. But Palestinians inside Gaza say not this time.

"This is a different war, this is a different [Israel Defense Forces,]" he said. "This is not the same bombing that we used to see before."

There are no humanitarian corridors to bring badly needed aid inside and no open border crossings. The passage into Egypt has been struck at least three times. Even aid workers haven't been spared. The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency says 11 of its staff members were killed, some in their homes with their families. Eighteen of their facilities have been damaged, including schools where many of the more than 330,000 people that are displaced are sheltering.

Among the only places left that still have generator power are the hospitals. Abu Zarefeh says those will run out sometime today.

"Everybody is thinking about how to stay alive," he said. "We are human, we are part of this world. We are part of this civilization. Don't forget us."

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.