In Gazan Neighborhood Hit by Airstrikes, Death and Despair Reign

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The Israel Defense Forces confirmed to CNN that a blast Wednesday in the Falluja neighborhood of Jabaliya was caused by an airstrike. “Earlier today, based on precise intelligence, I.D.F. fighter jets struck a Hamas command and control complex in Jabaliya. We can confirm that Hamas terrorists were eliminated in the strike.”

Contacted by The Times, an I.D.F. spokesman said he was unaware of the statement given to CNN.

Severed communications made it difficult on Wednesday to reach survivors, doctors or rescue crews to gauge the toll in Jabaliya, which is in northern Gaza. Two of the Gaza Strip’s largest telecommunications providers said that lines appeared to be once again disconnected, as they were for 34 hours after Israel began its ground invasion on Friday.

On Wednesday, parts of the community were a tableau of destruction and despair. The Gazan Interior Ministry said the strike had destroyed an entire residential block. The evening before, footage showed rows of bodies in shrouds lined up outside a nearby hospital.

One Jabaliya resident, Ameen Abed, 35, recounted on Wednesday that at about 4 p.m. the day earlier, he heard a rapid series of four powerful explosions. The sky filled with debris and the ground shook.

“There is only the smell of corpses and gunpowder,” he said.

The strike on Jabaliya and the broader death toll has intensified international criticism of Israel’s three-week campaign of airstrikes on Gaza, which followed a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, many of them civilians.

Local officials in Gaza say that more than 8,800 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began three weeks ago. It has been not possible to independently confirm the casualty claims.

Despite its designation as a refugee camp, Jabaliya is a developed community housing Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1940s during the conflict that surrounded the creation of Israel.

Mr. Hammash, the aid worker, said the airstrike Tuesday had hit the heart of the densely packed community.

Israel has held Hamas accountable for the civilian death toll in Gaza, saying that it is using Gazans as human shields. It notes that it repeatedly warned residents to evacuate northern Gaza in recent days.

But many who left found that they were still in the fire, and rights experts said that advising civilians to leave did not mean that Israel could strike at will.

“Giving warning does not absolve parties from the requirement to protect civilians,” said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch. “Civilians who do not evacuate,” he said, must still be protected.

Mr. Abed, the Jabaliya resident, also rejected Israel’s justifications.

“Even if there was a military leader in the area,” he said, “the Israeli military has no justification to bomb a densely populated area.”

Jabaliya, Israeli officials say, is a stronghold for the militants.

But it is also a home for the 116,000 Palestinians who are registered to live in the 1.4-square-kilometer area.

They are among millions of Palestinians who are still classified as refugees by the United Nations after decades of exile. Israel, which bars Gazans from returning to the land they were expelled from, objects to the U.N. definition of Palestinians as refugees in general.

Even before the latest conflict, and the dire shortages of food, water and fuel it has caused, conditions for Jabaliya’s residents were arduous. Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza, also enforced by Egypt, has created poverty and stagnation. And freedom of movement in and out of Gaza is severely restricted by Israel.

But on the horizon, some of Jabaliya’s residents can see their ancestral homes, just beyond the fence that separates the strip from southern Israel.

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