'People just don't feel safe . . . The sound of the drones overhead is incessant'
Gaza City has become a “ghost town” where terrified families stay indoors for fear of Israeli missiles, according to a Cork woman who lives there.
Gisela Schmidt-Martin (29), who works with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and has been based in the Gaza strip since May, disputed claims by Israel that its bombings had targeted only Hamas and its infrastructure.
“Certain days the streets have been completely deserted and it has been like a ghost town. Generally everybody is just terrified, because nobody knows what’s going to happen next,” she said by telephone.
“People just don’t feel safe. There are no bomb shelters. There are no air raid signals. There is no warning. The sound of the [surveillance] drones overhead is incessant.”
Schmidt-Martin said she had slept less than eight hours since last Wednesday, a pattern she believed was common.
“Many people are not sleeping. You’ve got families huddled together in their homes, trying to do something to make their children feel safe, and they’re powerless to do that . . . That is the great tragedy for the parents here.”
Gaza health official Mufid al-Miklalati said 65 Palestinians – about half of them women and children – had been killed in small, densely populated Gaza since the current conflict began, with hundreds wounded. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens.
Israel’s declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force Hamas to stop rocket fire that has bedevilled Israeli border towns for years and is now displaying greater range.
Israel has said its missiles are precisely targeted, but Schmidt-Martin disputed this. “Last night I lay awake to the sound of Israeli naval ships firing 40 shells in quick succession at the shore. In sequences of three or four, they were firing these shells. That is not a surgical, targeted operation,” she said.
In other air raids on Sunday, two Gaza City media buildings were hit, according to a number of witness reports. Eight journalists were wounded and facilities belonging to Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV as well as Britain’s Sky News were damaged.
An employee of the Beirut-based al-Quds television station lost his leg in the attack, local medics said. The Israeli military said the strike targeted a rooftop “transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out terror activity”, and that journalists in the building had effectively been used as human shields.
Schmidt-Martin said she visited one of the bombed media buildings yesterday. “There was a gaping hole in the ceiling and holes in the walls.You couldn’t step on the ground because it was strewn with cement and insulation,” she said. Asked about her plans, she said she did not “for the moment” intend to leave, but that she was monitoring the situation closely.