By Arab News
Israel hammered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday with the fiercest air strikes in its 75-year history as the death toll on both sides from the surprise offensive by Hamas passed 3,000.
More than 1,000 Israelis are now known to have died when militant fighters swarmed across the border from Gaza, at least 830 Palestinians have been killed in four days of retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, and the Israeli military claimed to have killed 1,500 Hamas attackers.
Across the barrier wall separating Israel from Gaza, Israeli soldiers collected the last of the dead and restored their control of the border. In the skies above Gaza, Israeli airstrikes intensified, shaking the ground and sending columns of smoke and flames into the sky.
More than 180,000 Gazans have been made homeless, many huddling on streets or in schools. Israeli strikes since Saturday have destroyed more than 22,600 homes and 10 health facilities, and damaged 48 schools.
At the morgue in Khan Younis hospital in southern Gaza, bodies were laid on the ground on stretchers with names written on their stomachs. Doctors called for relatives to pick up bodies quickly because there was no more space.
A municipal building was hit while being used as an emergency shelter. Survivors spoke of many dead. “No place is safe in Gaza, as you see they hit everywhere,” said Ala Abu Tair, 35, who had sought shelter there with his family after fleeing Abassan Al-Kabira near the border.
Radwan Abu Al-Kass, a father of three, was one of the last to leave his five-story building in Al-Rimal district after the area came under attack. A missile hit the building, which was destroyed by a bigger strike after he got out. “The whole district was just erased,” he said.
Two members of Hamas’s political office, Jawad Abu Shammala and Zakaria Abu Maamar, were killed in an air strike in Khan Younis, the first Hamas officials killed since the airstrikes began.
Israel’s next move is widely expected to be a ground offensive into Gaza, territory it left in 2005 after 38 years of occupation and has kept under blockade since Hamas seized power there in 2007.
However, Israeli leaders must decide whether to rein in their retaliation to safeguard up to 150 hostages abducted during the Hamas attack and now hidden in Gaza.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and told him the Kingdom was working to ensure the conflict did not spread across the region.