Gaza has been plunged into darkness and cut off from the world as Israel knocked out phone and internet connections in the besieged Palestinian strip amidst its military’s unprecedented bombardment campaign from land, air and sea. In the desolate, evacuated southern Israeli town of Sderot, the explosions echo constantly as the ground shakes from Israeli bombs smashing one of the world’s most densely populated places, only a few kilometers away.
From a vantage point that overlooks Israel’s wall sealing in Gaza, the plumes of smoke and dust rise up as people’s homes, schools and offices come down. Israeli ground troops and tanks have been fighting in north and central Gaza. Heavy machine gun fire rattle out from Israeli positions, punctuating the incessant thud of Israeli bombs delivering death and suffering across the 2.3 million-person enclave where nearly half the population are children. Over 7,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, with casualty rates soaring in the last few days.
Soldiers patrol the deserted streets of Sderot while police run checkpoints on the lookout for Palestinian fighters from Gaza launching a counter attack. It is as close to the war in Gaza that Israel is letting the press. A place where bloody armed clashes raged when Hamas launched a surprise assault three weeks ago – overpowering Israel’s southern defenses, taking an estimated 200 hostages and committing massacres – homes and supermarkets are now empty. The town, like much of the area, has emptied as the Israeli military has built up for a ground invasion of Gaza following an attack that killed more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers.
At just after seven on Friday evening, Israeli Jews were sitting down to Shabbat dinner amidst war without end, where they are still identifying the bodies of killed loved ones from October 7 while the families of hostages are desperate for a resolution where they see their relatives again.
Across the firewall dividing them, Gazans continued to huddle in whatever cover they could find. Gazan journalists were walking between the hospitals where they got power to file their reports and the flattened neighborhoods where they document the indiscriminate killing. Doctors were trying to save lives without the most basic medical supplies and performing surgery at Al Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s largest and under an escalating Israeli threat of bombardment – without anesthesia. Already cut off from the world, their desperate pleas for help and descriptions of the agony forced upon them would also be sealed into Gaza moments later. [Continue reading…]