• 24 Feb, 2024

After Israel's devastating attack on the refugee camp, relatives returned to dig up many of the victims buried under the rubble.

Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip - Four days after the smallest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip was hit by another Israeli airstrike, Palestinians are still collecting the bodies of their loved ones from the rubble.

An attack in the central Gaza city of Magazi on Sunday evening killed at least 90 people, including children and many displaced people. Residents, including Ashraf al-Hajj Ahmed, said the attack was "sudden" and without warning, one of the deadliest attacks since Israel began fighting in the territory on October 7.

"Around 11:30 that evening, we saw a series of massive explosions that shook the entire camp," Al-Hajji Ahmed told Voice of Urdu. His relative's house was in ruins. Al-Hajj Ahmed remembers waking up to the shelling and running to it a few blocks away. At the scene of the attack, he found a four-story building destroyed "on top of the occupants."

"There were probably about 40 people there, including the homeowners and displaced families who were given shelter," he said. At least three houses in the overcrowded camp were damaged in Israeli airstrikes. Gaza officials said seven families were among the dead. The official death toll is 90, but residents of the camp near Deir el Bala say the number is much higher, with entire houses destroyed.

"At least 50 people live in each house," another Magazi resident told Voice of Urdu. "Most of them are Palestinians who were forcibly moved from other parts of Gaza and forced to leave their homes."

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNRWA), the camp usually houses 30,000 people. However, as Palestinians moved to other parts of the country to escape Israel's relentless bombing, the number of residents there grew to around 100,000. "So many body parts were removed that we cannot calculate the total number of deaths," said a second resident.

He added: "They are all dismantled and we are taking them out with our bare hands." "Now I've collected at least two piles of body parts."

"Dark and Painful Night"

The Israeli attack did not spare the houses and shelters from which people fled.

Maghazi has been subjected to heavy artillery and airstrikes, despite being on the southern edge of an area considered "safe" by Israeli forces and despite ordering civilians to avoid ground attacks from the north. At least 50 Palestinians were killed in the attacks last month. The area around the camp was also heavily shelled by Israeli forces last week. Abu Rami is among those who sought refuge in Maghazi after leaving their home in the Abu al-Ais al-Zahra area. He said Sunday's attack is not the first time he and his family have been hurt. "Our house was attacked in Az-Zahra. After we got here, the house where we stayed was bombed again." Al Ais, whose daughter was seriously injured, told Voice of Urdu. He echoed Al Haji Ahmed's experience, saying there was no "warning" before the attack.

Al Ais said that in past attacks on the area, Israeli forces sometimes dropped leaflets or used loudspeakers to warn residents of buildings to evacuate minutes before the attack. But there was no such warning during this attack.

"Missiles are falling on the heads of innocent people sleeping at home," he said. "They (Israel) want total genocide."

According to Al-Ais, people still collect the remains of friends, neighbors, and relatives with their bare hands.

"We found the exploded remains of women and children. "Their body parts were scattered over about three blocks," Al Ais said, referring to the severity of the attack.

"It was a very dark and painful night for Magazi," he recalls. "The widespread and obvious destruction is beyond words."

Infrastructure, including roads leading to the camp, was also destroyed.

According to Al-Ais, there are no excavators to speed up the process of rescuing people from under concrete blocks. A lack of fuel to power bulldozers and vehicles means residents, like Gaza's civil defense groups, are digging with their bare hands to pull as many victims as possible from the rubble.

Since besieging the blockaded area at the start of the war, Israel has cut off fuel supplies and allowed little aid through the Rafah border. "We don't need food, we don't need water, we don't need coffins," Al Ais said. "We need a ceasefire and an end to this war."

Al-Haj Ahmed agreed. There is shame in the Arab world. We don't just need your help, we need you personally. “Come and stay with your brothers,” he said.

Since October 7, attacks on refugee camps and civilian infrastructure have become more frequent. The Jabari refugee camp in northern Gaza has been attacked repeatedly, killing hundreds of Palestinians.

Civilian infrastructure including schools, hospitals, ambulances and places of worship were also bombed. Since October 7, more than 21,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 1.9 million displaced. This represents more than 80% of the 2.3 million people living in Gaza.