GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Around 35,000 residents a Gaza neighborhood on Sunday after a night of relentless Israeli shelling killed at least 110 and left its streets strewn with bodies, including those of children.
Witnesses said airstrikes and land and naval shellings were the heaviest in 13 days of fighting. Israel said it had expanded its ground offensive in Gaza and militants kept up rocket fire into the Jewish state with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to end the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in two years. However, the Israeli military announced a two-hour "humanitarian hiatus" on Sunday afternoon local time but it did not last long. Both sides blamed the other for violating it.
The artillery strikes sent panicked residents of the Shejaia area fleeing, many carrying small children and waving white flags.
The main Shifa hospital was inundated with casualties and the death toll was likely to climb. Reuters reported that anguished cries of "Did you see Ahmed?" "Did you see my wife?" echoed through the hospital's courtyard, while inside bodies and wounded lay on blood-stained floors. An Associated Press journalist witnessed frantic parents carrying children wounded by shrapnel, with doctors treating some patients on mattresses in a hallway.
"The gate of hell has opened"
Elderly men said the Israeli attack was the fiercest they had seen since the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured Gaza, according to Reuters.
A Ministry of Health spokesman told NBC News that the shelling left more 110 Palestinians dead.
Video given to Reuters by a local showed at least a dozen corpses, including three children, lying in rubble-filled streets. The footage could not be verified independently by NBC News.
"The gate of hell has opened, and shrapnel came through the windows," said resident Jawad Hassanain told The Associated Press by phone. "From 12:30 a.m. until 4 a.m., all you could hear is heavy bombardment, the smell of fire and the smell of death."
It was too dangerous for emergency workers to reach Shejaia, which lies to the east of Gaza City. A medic and a Palestinian journalist killed when an ambulance was hit by a shell, local media reported. Naser Tattar, Shifa hospital's director, told Reuters that at least 17 children and 15 women were among the dead. Some 400 people were wounded in the Israeli attack, according to Tattar.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank, accused Israel of carrying out a massacre and declared three days of mourning.
Heavy shelling began around midnight as tanks reached the edge of the neighborhood, residents told The Associated Press.
"There are dead and wounded in the streets, and no one can help them," said Ahmed Rabia, 52, one of those who had fled and reached downtown Gaza City.
Asked about the attack on Shejaia, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: "Two days ago, residents of Shejaia received recorded messages to evacuate the area in order to protect their lives."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alastair Jamieson reported from London.