‘Afraid of the night’: Gaza families tell of constant Israeli air strikes and power cuts

Intensity of violence between Israel and Hamas has shocked observers, but residents of Gaza fear worst is to come

GAZA CITY, GAZA - MAY 15: A picture showing a local fire north of Gaza City, along with rockets fired from Gaza to Israel on May 15, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. More than 125 people in Gaza and eight people in Israel have been killed as cross-border rocket exchanges intensify bringing fears of war. Gaza residents have begun fleeing towns close to the border with Israel as rumors of an Israeli ground incursion loom, after 7.000 army reservists were called up and tanks and troops were deployed to the border with Gaza. The conflict which erupted May 10, comes after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem, which peaked with violent clashes inside the holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque. (Photo by Fatima Shbair/Getty Images)
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Israeli warplanes dropped as many as 100 bombs on Gaza in the space of 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Seven days into the conflict, air raids shattered the nerves of Gaza’s two million residents during the worst fighting since 2014.

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I am afraid of night. The heavy bombing starts at night and we live through horrible and scary moments

But survivors of the air strikes are facing other challenges as bombing destroys crucial services, placing families at risk of disease amid power cuts and a lack of water.

The Health Ministry on Sunday said at least 192 Palestinian were killed including 58 children and 34 women, with the toll of wounded at 1,235.

"Everything is targeted, nothing is secure," Niema Bilal, 41, told The National. "The situation is very difficult."

Nowhere to turn 

Ms Bilal lives in a flat in Gaza City, which she now shares with about 20 of her displaced relatives who fled their homes. Almost 40,000 residents of Gaza have been displaced.

“Yesterday we received a warning to leave the house, because our neighbour’s house will be targeted,” she said.

Israel has a policy of phoning and texting some Gaza residents when their homes are about to be destroyed.

“We were so confused and didn't know what to do,” Ms Bilal said.

Her family now lives with incessant fear and in miserable, dark conditions as Gaza’s power and water services are being destroyed in the bombardment.

Gaza’s municipal water supplies rely on electric pumps, while water lines have also been destroyed as streets have been obliterated by bombing.

“Because the electricity has been out for a long time I have a shortage of water,” Ms Bilal says.

“Can you imagine 20 people needing to use the bathroom, wanting to wash their hands, but there is not enough water for that.”

The damage to the sewage network has led to wastewater flowing into the streets in Gaza City and elsewhere, the United Nations office for humanitarian affairs (OCHA) said Sunday.

Gaza's only power station said it was forced to stop operating at full production because of a lack of fuel. Gazans are currently receiving between six and eight hours of power daily, according to OCHA.

Israel closed both its people and goods crossings with Gaza on Monday.

Adding to Ms Bilal’s considerable worries is whether she will be able to provide for so many sheltering in her home.

“I get my payment daily, so if I don’t work I will not have any source of money," she said.

"I have been staying at home since the beginning of the escalation. I have no money and I have to take care of 20 people, but I can’t."

There are no signs that the violence will abate.

On Sunday morning, Israeli aircraft launched some of the most intense raids of the campaign, destroying buildings on Al Wehda Street in Gaza City.

The Health Ministry said one of those air strikes killed at least 42 people, including 10 children and 16 women.

It is feared the toll could climb further as rescuers were still searching through rubble for survivors.

“I thought that I lived in the safest neighbourhood in Gaza, because in the latest wars people evacuated their homes and came to stay in our neighbourhood,” said Taghreed Yaghi, 35, a mother of three.

“Now my area or any other area in Gaza is no longer safe. My children feel so angry they missed Eid and feel so sad that they missed their school vacation, which will be ruined.”

Ms Yaghi, who lives in Al Remal neighborhood, said she faced financial difficulties and food shortages.

"I face the problem of paying for food and groceries because the nearby markets are closed and it is not safe to drive the car to go to any other markets", she told The National.

“I am afraid of night. The heavy bombing starts at night and we live through horrible and scary moments.”

Tassneen Abu Ghaban, 24, lives in Jabalia, north of the Gaza Strip, and tries to distract his young nephews from the terrifying sounds of war.

“My nephews came to stay with us," Mr Abu Ghaban said. "They feel so scared because of the bombing sounds.

"I tried to entertain them by playing them movies but there is no electricity to watch TV.

“When the power cuts out, I feel that I am disconnected from everything, because I don’t have access to the internet, to news.”

Humanitarian agencies have been pushing for days for the border to be briefly opened to allow vital supplies to enter Gaza, to no avail.

"There's lots of worry that if fuel doesn't come in the central power station will cease to function in a couple of days," Matthias Schmale, Gaza director for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees [UNRWA], told The National.

While residents face "terrifyingly loud" bombardment, he said, some 48 UNWRA schools were sheltering the displaced.

"Because schools have a blue United Nations flag on them, and the experience from the 2014 war is they were a safer place than their home," he said, remarking nowhere was completely safe.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday that violence must end immediately.

World powers must use “maximum influence” to stop the conflict, it said. On the same day, Israel dropped at least 90 bombs on Gaza in 24 hours.

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