Israel’s fighter jets and artillery have struck targets in Gaza frequently over the years as part of a longstanding conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. But residents of Gaza said that from the first day of the war, this time has felt worse.
Gazans say that the strikes have been indiscriminate and have hit structures that are normally safe, such as schools, hospitals and mosques. Israel has said its strikes are targeting sites connected with Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, including the homes of members.
Israel has given broad warnings for people to leave certain neighborhoods or towns, but has acknowledged they are not as extensive or specific as they have been in the past, and many residents say they have not received them. Gazans say they have nowhere to go anyway.
Entire families have been killed in their homes, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.
The strikes came as part of Israel’s response to Saturday’s attack, when hundreds of Palestinian gunmen swept across Israel’s border with Gaza, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers and firing thousands of rockets as far away as Tel Aviv.
Israel has acknowledged it is striking with extraordinary severity, saying that is because of the level of harm that fighters had wrought during their assault. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a briefing on Tuesday: “This is not like previous rounds.”
On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes continued to pound Gaza with airstrikes, reducing some buildings to rubble. Palestinian authorities said 900 people had been killed and about 168 buildings had been damaged since Saturday, among them seven hospitals and 48 schools.
On the ground, residents say they have felt an intense level of fear, with some describing the relentless airstrikes as being like multiple earthquakes underfoot.
“What they are doing shouldn’t be allowed,” said one woman sheltering at the Al Shifa hospital, who did not give her full name. She said she fled to the hospital cradling her week-old baby after an airstrike hit near their home in northern Gaza, close to the border with Israel.
She and 19 members of her family had been sheltering for three days in a hall in a part of the hospital that is under construction. They were joined by many others who fled the strikes and slept in the hallways or in the courtyards outside.
Telephone and internet service were cut off in many parts of Gaza on Monday after an Israeli strike hit the building housing the Palestine Telecommunications Company in the city center. The U.N. humanitarian agency said Israeli airstrikes have damaged water, sanitation and hygiene facilities affecting more than 400,000 people in Gaza.
And after days of strikes, entire neighborhoods no longer look like they did just a couple of days ago.
In the upscale Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Rimal, where the Israeli army said on Tuesday that it had carried out its main airstrikes overnight, buildings were so damaged they bled into each other. Landmarks had been erased and entire streets have taken on a dark gray hue because of the dust.
Thousands of people fled Al-Rimal, but many have nowhere to go; Gaza has no bomb shelters and those who went to the homes of relatives often found that they too were fleeing.
A woman, 38, at the Al-Shifa hospital morgue Tuesday, who did not give her full name, was waiting along with other family members to take the body of her niece and her two young daughters so that they could be buried. On Monday, she said, the three were killed when an airstrike hit their home and they were crushed under the rubble.
“No warning,” she said.
Israeli army Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said that the Israeli Air Force was too stretched to fire warning strikes — known as “roof knocks” — that it has often fired in previous Gaza conflicts to encourage Palestinian civilians to leave an area before it is hit with larger missiles.
Authorities sent text messages to Palestinian phone numbers in one area on Saturday night and have posted on social media about other areas. Residents in a few high-rise buildings have gotten alerts before airstrikes destroyed them, but otherwise, Gazans said, there have been few specific warnings.
Colonel Hecht said that Israel was telling Gazans to move from areas that would be targeted, and advised them to leave through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Hours later on Tuesday, the Israeli military bombed the crossing, shutting it down.
Patrick Kingsley and Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.