Israeli airstrikes pounded Gaza on Monday, flattening mosques over the heads of worshipers, wiping away a busy marketplace full of shoppers and killing entire families, witnesses and authorities in Gaza said.
Five Israeli airstrikes ripped through the marketplace in the Jabaliya refugee camp, reducing it to rubble and killing dozens, the authorities said. Other strikes hit four mosques in the Shati refugee camp and killed people worshiping inside, they said. Witnesses said boys had been playing soccer outside one of the mosques when it was struck.
The strikes came as part of Israel’s response to Saturday’s attack, when hundreds of Palestinian gunmen swept across Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, killing civilians and soldiers in shooting rampages and firing thousands of rockets toward the center of the country. The fighters are believed to be holding 150 hostages, both civilians and soldiers. About 800 Israelis were killed and nearly 2,400 were injured, according to Israeli officials.
Israel says its strikes are targeting centers of operations of Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls Gaza. It confirmed hitting the mosques, saying it was targeting Hamas infrastructure or fighters inside those buildings.
Israel also has said it issued warnings before strikes, urging civilians to leave. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned Gazans to get out of the way of any potential Hamas targets on Saturday night. And warnings came before airstrikes hit and demolished four tower buildings in Gaza on Saturday and Sunday.
Gazans say that most of the strikes have been indiscriminate, and that most have come without warnings. Also, Gazans say they have nowhere to go; the enclave has no bomb shelters, and residents cannot leave because of the 16-year land, air and sea blockade by Israel and Egypt, which limits what comes into the enclave and prevents most people from leaving.
“The strikes started suddenly without warning,” said Haneen Mousa, who lives near one of the mosques that were hit. “They targeted the mosque next to us and the cement blocks, the metal, the walls all fell on us.”
At a news briefing Monday morning, an Israeli military official declined to comment on whether the military had stopped giving warnings before carrying out airstrikes on homes and apartment buildings.
“We’re at war,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht of the Israel Defense Forces. He added: “There’s been a change of paradigm. We’ll do everything we can. But right now, this is war and the scale is different.”
Since Israel began its airstrikes on Saturday, at least 687 Palestinians have been killed, the Gazan Health Ministry said on Monday, and nearly 3,000 others have been wounded. The casualties included 140 children and 105 women, the ministry said, in some cases entire families. It was not clear how many of the casualties were fighters involved in the attack on Israel.
“The Israelis have lost their minds,” said Raji Sourani, a lawyer with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, adding, “They are annihilating entire families.”
The United Nations and Palestinian officials have said that at least two hospitals and multiple homes also have been hit. A hospital in northern Gaza was put out of service because of the Israeli strikes in the area, according to the health ministry.
Gaza’s health ministry said that Israeli strikes were “directly and systematically” targeting ambulances, and that at least nine had been struck since Saturday.
The U.N. humanitarian agency said Israeli airstrikes have damaged water, sanitation and hygiene facilitates affecting more than 400,000 people in Gaza. Two schools run by the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees have been hit by strikes, according to the United Nations.
The yearslong blockade of Gaza has led to nearly a 50 percent unemployment rate and the deterioration of living conditions, the health care system and infrastructure for the more than two million Palestinians who live there.
On Monday, Israel’s defense minister announced a “complete siege” of Gaza, saying “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed in. 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.
Amid widespread fear in Gaza about the Israeli response, many people fleeing other parts of the blockaded enclave had come to seek shelter in central Jabaliya, in the northern part of the strip, where shops and homes surround the market area. Monday’s strike hit as vendors and customers packed the marketplace, stocking up on food and produce.
Videos shared on social media and distributed by Palestinian news agencies show bodies strewn amid the detritus of what moments earlier had been a busy market selling produce and other goods.
Sixty people died, according to a paramedic with the Red Crescent who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity. There was no immediate confirmation from the Gazan Health Ministry.
Broken concrete and twisted metal from the surrounding buildings filled the square, where people rushed through the rubble and clouds of smoke searching for survivors. As a fire burned on the edge of the square, a policeman, bloodied and covered in dust, sat off to its side.
“Is he dead? Is he dead?” a man was heard yelling in one video.
Ms. Mousa, her seven children and husband ran out of their home as rubble fell from the strike on the mosque next door, and their roof and walls began to cave in. A neighbor, a young girl, was killed, Ms. Mousa said, and residents struggled to dig her body out from under the rubble, she said.
“If there had been warning, we would have gotten out before; instead, all of a sudden, three floors fell on top of us,” Ms. Mousa said.
On Monday afternoon, neighbors were combing through the rubble of the large Al-Sousi mosque, which was nearly unrecognizable as a place of worship. Abu Uday, 47, a father of nine, lived next door to the Gharbia mosque.
“No warnings, no nothing — before we knew it, the rockets hit,” he said. “The glass all shattered on us and the rocks fell on us.”
Sumaya Ghabin, 30, was shaken awake at around 6 a.m. by the boom of an Israeli strike hitting the Gharbia mosque, which is about two blocks away from her home and also near the Al-Sousi mosque.
“We woke up and find the house all dust and shrapnel,” she said. The windows had been blown out, she added, and her 10-year-old daughter was hiding under the covers screaming. “It seems like they are going to hit all the mosques.”
Patrick Kingsley and Samar Abu Elouf contributed reporting.