Monday, December 4, 2023
HomeNewsA midnight journey into northern Gaza reveals a shattered warscape

A midnight journey into northern Gaza reveals a shattered warscape


GAZA CITY — To enter Gaza now could be to reach in hell.

On Saturday evening, I crossed by way of the damaged barrier between Israel and Gaza at the back of an Israeli army jeep, going quick with out lights underneath a crescent moon. Earlier than the breach, I used to be simply capable of make out the bullet-riddled automobiles by the roadside, a number of the a whole lot of civilian automobiles attacked by Hamas fighters who poured by way of this identical fence on Oct. 7.

They mark the gateway to warfare.

Quickly after we crossed into Gaza — racing over debris-covered roads — the primary destroyed buildings appeared. Some have been skeletal silhouettes in opposition to the celebs, windowless and blackened, others mere pancaked stacks of concrete.

Additional in, the ruins have been extra tightly packed. These have been neighborhoods simply weeks in the past. Nearly no construction was untouched.

Explosions sounded often. A fireplace burned on a close-by ridge. Each few miles, the bitter stench of decaying our bodies rose with the mud. Hundreds of persons are nonetheless believed to be entombed within the rubble.

Gaza turns into ‘a graveyard for kids’ as Israel intensifies airstrikes

Earlier than the warfare, even throughout earlier wars, donkey carts and Toyotas shouldered previous one another in Gaza Metropolis’s chaotic intersections. The poorest fishermen powered their boats with cooking oil and offered their catch from blankets on the sidewalk. There was a mall with flashy sneaker shops and a lately opened cat cafe.

It was an enclave of poverty and energy shortages that additionally bore a fierce delight of place. Northern Gaza — an important middle of Palestinian tradition and establish — has develop into a smoking, reeking damage.

Lots of of 1000’s have fled to the south, leaving a silence damaged solely by the pop of machine-gun hearth and the heavy thrum of Israeli tanks. Greater than 11,000 individuals have been killed, in accordance with the Gaza Well being Ministry, however the official quantity has been frozen for 10 days. Counting the useless is not doable, officers say. Communication blackouts make it more and more tough to achieve the dwelling.

I entered Gaza with a small group of journalists, escorted by the Israel Protection Forces. Our final vacation spot was al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest health-care facility.

Israel is keen to point out what it describes as proof that the hospital was doubling as a Hamas army base, notably a lately found tunnel shaft on the fringe of the compound — although the proof stays inconclusive. On this journey, reporters have been permitted solely a 60-second glimpse right into a steeply pitched shaft, which Israeli commanders say is just too perilous to enter.

How Israel constructed its case to raid Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital

Getting there would take hours — in jeeps first, after which an armored personnel provider — within the firm of closely armed troopers.

To achieve entry to Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt, The Washington Put up agreed to not disclose areas or particulars of sure army operations and gear or to {photograph} troopers’ faces. We have been with the army for the whole six hours contained in the enclave and weren’t permitted to hunt out locals to interview, although there have been no Gazans to be seen.

Israeli officers didn’t evaluation The Put up’s reporting earlier than publication.

No Hamas fighters tried to cease our convoy throughout Gaza. Israel’s occupation of this a part of the enclave appears agency, its forces in every single place. “In some areas, we now have gained full management,” mentioned a lieutenant colonel, the deputy commander of the seventh armored brigade. “In denser areas it’s tougher.”

Like others on this piece, he spoke on the situation of anonymity consistent with IDF guidelines.

I’ve made many journeys to Gaza throughout my 4 years because the Washington Put up’s bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories. Getting into the Strip has all the time been tough. I final got here in September, navigating the gantlet of Israeli, Hamas and Palestinian Authority checkpoints to achieve this parallel universe of deprivation and isolation.

It was simply weeks earlier than the Hamas assault, when the horrors of the previous month and a half have been nonetheless past imagining, even for these deeply steeped on this lengthy and brutal battle. However there have been clues.

Throughout that 10-day keep, my Gazan colleague Hazem Balousha and I have been informed that the summer season of relative calm in Gaza — as violence spiked within the occupied West Financial institution — was starting to fray. “It has been quiet, however it’s starting to boil,” Basem Naim, head of Hamas’s Political and Worldwide Relations Division, informed us. “There’s plenty of strain underneath the water.”

We seen an uncommon quantity of computerized weapons hearth coming from a Hamas coaching space north of Gaza Metropolis, not removed from the place Balousha has a small fruit orchard. In a Sept. 21 story that now appears chillingly prescient, we reported that Hamas was mentioned to be drilling its fighters on rocket launches, kidnapping troopers and “storming settlements.”

It was one of many final worldwide press dispatches from Gaza earlier than Oct. 7, when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel — killing some 1,200 individuals, a lot of them civilians, and taking greater than 230 hostages, together with kids and the aged.

Hamas envisioned deeper assaults, aiming to impress an Israeli warfare

Gaza’s summer season of peace — and Israel’s sense of safety — has given method to unprecedented destruction on either side of the barrier.

On this return go to, because the jeeps sped by way of the blackness, it was inconceivable not to consider the captives nonetheless being held someplace on this unrecognizable warscape. Or maybe beneath it.

“On this space, we predict there’s a Gaza beneath Gaza, mentioned the lieutenant colonel, who has been preventing in Gaza since Israeli floor troops entered in late October.

He was referring to the community of tunnels that Israeli and U.S. intelligence officers mentioned lace the limestone beneath these neighborhoods, a labyrinth described as important to Hamas’s guerrilla techniques.

“The terrorist will come out of 1 constructing to struggle, after which disappear and are available out of one other constructing,” he mentioned. “The identical terrorist.”

The colonel had led a number of the forces that lower straight throughout Gaza to the Mediterranean shore within the first days of the bottom invasion. Saturday’s jeep trip ended on that seashore. Not distant was the Roots Lodge, now largely destroyed, which had been our frequent base on visits right here.

I had by no means been to Gaza with out Balousha by my facet. Thankfully, he and his younger household — who have been displaced 5 occasions within the first weeks of bombing and spent an evening sleeping on the sidewalk close to al-Shifa — managed to cross into Egypt. He continues to report from Amman.

We transferred to a hulking personnel provider for the ultimate passage to al-Shifa, its large ramp closing with an ear-popping pressurized hiss. There have been no home windows, however the screens offered a ghostly white survey of crumbled buildings as we crept down streets stripped of pavement.

The machine rolled into and out of a crater as its cameras swiveled forwards and backwards looking for threats. Disembarking at al-Shifa, we noticed a number of the solely lighted buildings of our journey. A window glowed in the principle construction and much more glowed within the emergency wing.

We entered a couple of hundred yards from these buildings, by way of a blasted wall in a hospital provide space, by no means seeing any of the a whole lot of sufferers and caregivers nonetheless within the wards.

Israeli troops scour Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital for proof of Hamas

For weeks, the hospital has been collapsing, slowly at first after which with catastrophic velocity, because the useless and injured overwhelmed the wards and employees ran out of water, medication and gas. Medical doctors operated on soiled flooring with out anesthesia and our bodies have been buried in a mass grave within the hospital courtyard.

A U.N. crew, led by the World Well being Group, described the ability as “a loss of life zone” after a short tour on Saturday. “Indicators of gunfire and shelling have been evident,” the WHO mentioned in an announcement.

Medical employees reported heavy preventing within the hours after Israeli troops first stormed al-Shifa early Wednesday. The IDF informed The Put up that its forces have “not fired a shot” contained in the compound and have offered the hospital with meals, water and medical provides.

Israel introduced journalists on this dangerous journey as a result of officers are adamant to show the case they’ve been urgent for weeks: That Hamas makes use of hospitals as shields for army operations, at the same time as 1000’s of wounded and displaced civilians depend on them for remedy and shelter.

Medical employees and the militant group have denied the accusations. Many amenities, besieged and surrounded, have already been pressured to close down or evacuate.

On Oct. 27, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari mentioned that al-Shifa hid an enormous Hamas subterranean headquarters, accessed by way of secret entrances to underground tunnels. He confirmed an animated video of what allegedly lay beneath. It was the “beating coronary heart” of Hamas operations, one other official mentioned. Earlier than the raid, U.S. officers declassified intelligence that they mentioned supported Israel’s conclusions about al-Shifa.

On Saturday, Hagari mentioned the uncovered shaft was clear proof of Hamas infrastructure, however he additionally appeared to minimize its significance. “I talked about Shifa Hospital, it’s on file,” he mentioned. “I mentioned ‘It’s not the command and management [center], like [top Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar is sitting down there with [his top deputy] Marwan Issa.’ It’s for seniors, for brigade commanders.”

Forbidden from utilizing flashlights in an space the place troopers had battled Hamas simply hours earlier than, we felt our approach over rubble and tangled cables. We held pink security lights as much as interview a masked particular forces soldier who described breaching the wall of a storage space within the hospital complicated, looking for Hamas fighters, then discovering a automobile filled with weapons close by.

Israel says the underground shaft is a portal to the broader Hamas tunnel community in Gaza, a declare The Put up can not independently verify. (Video: Israeli Army Handout)

Israel says its forces discovered the tunnel shaft once they detonated the explosives within the automobile and a army bulldozer concerned within the motion revealed the opening.

Gunshots sounded close by as we moved towards the opening. The CNN cameraman was permitted to activate a white mild for a couple of minute to movie, revealing how precariously we have been crowded across the sloped, debris-littered shaft.

Earlier, earlier than we entered Gaza, Hagari confirmed the group a video that troops had lately made by decreasing a distant digicam into the shaft. On the backside, previous a spiral steel stairway, a protracted horizontal tunnel is proven, ending at a heavy door.

Hagari mentioned that the passage was possible booby-trapped and that engineers have been on the lookout for methods to research safely — to guard Israeli troops and presumably hostages, two of whom have been lately found useless in close by homes, he mentioned.

Israel says the shaft is a portal to the broader Hamas tunnel community, a declare The Put up can not independently verify. Strain is mounting on the IDF to make a extra conclusive case — to justify the humanitarian toll of its assaults in and round Gaza’s hospitals, and to say a army victory as a deal to pause the preventing and free hostages hangs within the stability.

U.S. near cope with Israel and Hamas to pause battle, free some hostages

On the trip again within the personnel provider, the Israeli colonel confirmed movies on his telephone of Hamas fighters attaching magnetic explosives to an IDF tank, killing two troopers. He described how militants launched rocket propelled grenades from the decrease and higher tales of residence buildings, and the way IDF troops had begun capturing quickly, each excessive and low, once they entered visitors junctions.

Requested how these techniques comported with Israel’s pledge to guard civilians, the colonel cited a number of steps the IDF has taken, from warning residents to go away northern Gaza to halting actions every day alongside a serious evacuation route.

In the end, he returned to Hamas’s brutality on Oct. 7. “This can be a warfare zone,” he mentioned. “We didn’t need to be right here however Hamas gave us no alternative.”

The sky was even blacker when our jeep convoy lastly crossed again into Israel. It had been a darkish trip from one traumatized inhabitants to a different.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments