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Israel’s Gaza bombardment fills cemeteries as the living flee homes

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© People dig graves to bury bodies of Palestinians from Samour family, who were killed in Israeli strikes on their house, at a land near to their home as the residents struggle to find spaces in cemeteries, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA () – Israeli air strikes have made major cemeteries in Gaza dangerous to reach so mourning families are burying their dead in informal graveyards dug in empty lots amid an intensifying siege that has pushed the tiny enclave towards a humanitarian catastrophe.

Gaza has been under Israeli bombardment since Saturday when the Islamist militant group Hamas sent hundreds of fighters through frontier fences and into Israel on a bloody rampage that left more than 1,200 dead and scores held as hostages.

Israeli retaliation with thousands of air and artillery strikes has killed more than 1,350 Palestinians including hundreds of children, injured more than 6,000, and pushed more than 218,000 from their homes to shelter in U.N. schools.

With all outside supplies of food, water, medicine, fuel and electricity cut off by Israel, an existing humanitarian crisis in Gaza has hit a dangerous new level, plunging the enclave’s 2.3 million people into further misery.

The main Martyrs Cemetery in Khan Younis was already nearly full long before the latest bout of warfare brought new pressure for grave sites. Like many other Gaza cemeteries, a “Burial is prohibited here” sign hung on its fence.

“We can’t wait to bury bodies in designated places. We have to bury them in random areas scattered around between the houses or in empty lots donated by landlords,” said Adel Hamada, a volunteer helping with burials at Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Gravediggers had still been cramming bodies in there despite the prohibition but it is now impossible. Bombardment has made the roads to the Martyrs Cemetery impassable.

Situated near the enclave’s border, it is also dangerously located near the frontlines of an expected Israeli ground assault.

With hospital morgues also filled with the bodies constantly arriving from bomb sites, families must find other places to bury their dead.

CONSTANT BURIALS

The Samour family was killed on Wednesday night when a strike hit their house in Khan Younis. Relatives and friends rushed to the morgue to pick up the eight bodies already recovered by rescue workers, with 10 more bodies believed to still lie under the rubble of the family home.

Their bodies were driven in a truck covered with flowery blankets from the hospital to an empty lot down the street from the rubble of their building and then lined up in white shrouds, one stained with blood, as hundreds of men prayed nearby.

Gravediggers shovelled earth from a long trench, marking out individual graves with concrete blocks. A man held his head in one hand as he caressed a shrouded body with the other before it was laid into the grave and a woman stood weeping.

“These are our relatives and in-laws,” said Abdelaziz al-Fahem. “This is a civilian family the Israeli forces bombed. It’s a real massacre,” he added.

Blasts echoed across Gaza through the night. Fireballs from air strikes pulsed red in the blackness above cities and refugee camps without electricity to light the streets.

From the air, drone images of the destruction showed gaping holes among tightly packed concrete buildings, with rubble wooden boards and twisted metal bars scrambled into the remains of bombed houses as residents picked through them.

In Khan Younis, a group of people stood atop the debris remaining from the destruction of a house by an airstrike. A mattress, scarlet cushions and pale sheets lay soiled with soot and dust amid the rubble, poking up between concrete blocks.

A woman’s body was lifted out in a white sheet and carried away on a stretcher through a crowd of men and boys. An elderly woman dressed all in black staggered down an alleyway and suddenly collapsed, wailing in grief.

At another bomb site, six men ran through a street carrying a stretcher with the dust-covered body of a man, his limbs twisted around. A woman saw who was on it and started screaming.

MAKESHIFT SHELTERS

At al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where many people who fled their homes have sought shelter hoping the medical facility will remain safe from Israel’s incessant bombardment, children peeped through the sheeting of a makeshift tent.

Clusters of people sat chatting or lay on the grass around the hospital, one boy fast asleep on a blanket using a medical face mask to cover his eyes.

A small barefoot girl, bruises on her face, sat weeping on the knee of an older woman after her house was hit. “My mother. I want my mother,” the girl kept saying. But the woman said nobody knew where the mother was.

Close by, ambulances still brought the dead and injured. A crying man stepped from a car carrying the body of a small child, wrapped in a white shroud that was stained with blood.

The shortages, particularly of electricity, are already causing major problems.

“As Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays can’t be taken. Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues,” said the regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Fabrizio Carboni.

Many of the displaced are sheltering in U.N. schools. At one, 14 year-old Hanan al-Attar said she had lost one of her two uncles in the bombardment. They had been cooking food when the strikes intensified and they rushed for safety.

Her uncle had run back to fetch the family some clothes and was killed when their house was hit, she said.

“There’s no electricity and no water. We’re not happy living at this school. Home was more comfortable,” she said.

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