Gun battles between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters were temporarily suspended in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya Wednesday to allow a convoy of ambulances to retrieve the wounded and clear the dead.
“A convoy of seven ambulances and two Red Cross cars went inside Shejaiya to evacuate the wounded,” International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Cecilia Goin said, adding that the mission had been coordinated with both Israel and Hamas.
Once one of the most densely populated areas in Gaza, Shejaiya now lies empty and unrecognizable. Entire blocks have been razed, leaving behind nothing but mountains of rubble and twisted metal. Buildings lean on each other, with gaping holes in their sides. The structures that remain standing are riddled with holes left by bullets and tank shells.
“It looks like Aleppo,” a Palestinian medic told VICE News, referring to the Syrian city completely destroyed by Syria’s ongoing civil war. “Are you sure we’re in Gaza?”
Although rescue teams were able to evacuate 11 injured people and remove several corpses, many others were left behind. As medics attempted to progress farther into the neighborhood, the sound of automatic gunfire grew louder. The team was finally forced to pull out about 90 minutes into the operation, after an Israeli tank shell exploded close by; clearly, the coordinated ceasefire was over.
Shejaiya has become one of the central flash points in Gaza since Israel began its ground operation five days ago. Intense street battles broke out in the area early Sunday morning after Hamas fighters reportedly hit an Israeli troop carrier with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing six of the seven soldiers inside. The soldiers’ deaths led to even heavier gun battles throughout the day on Sunday, as well as a consistent and concentrated Israeli bombing campaign, forcing a majority of the approximately 200,000 residents to flee the neighborhood. By the end of the day on Sunday, more than 70 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers had been killed.
Since then, the situation in Shejaiya has steadily declined, evidence of a proper ground war that is quickly spreading to other areas of Gaza. On Wednesday, formidable gunfights took place in Beit Lahiya and Beit Hannoun, in northern Gaza, the Tuffah neighborhood in Gaza City, and the village of Khuza’a near Khan Younis in the south.
All photos by Dylan Collins. Follow him on Twitter: @collinsdyl