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Palestinians Struggle to Reach Jabaliya Family Members After Israel Airstrike

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On Wednesday, the devastated neighborhood, where local officials say dozens were killed and hundreds were wounded in a Tuesday attack, was hit again.

A day after an Israeli airstrike thundered across a densely populated Gaza Strip neighborhood, Palestinians trying to reach family members there to learn their fates were met largely with unnerving silence.

Sometimes, phones rang and rang unanswered. Other times, callers were greeted with a somber recorded message: “Contact with the beloved Gaza Strip was lost as a result of the ongoing aggression,” a voice said. “May God protect Gaza and its people.”

“This is getting more insane every day,” Yousef Hammash, an employee of the Norwegian Refugee Council who was born in the Jabaliya neighborhood hit by the airstrike, said Wednesday.

Mr. Hammash, who is now taking shelter in southern Gaza, said continuing communications outages were adding exponentially to the anguish of living amid deprivation and death.

Sousan Hammad, 38, a writer and teacher in Brooklyn, said she had been frantically trying to reach family members in Jabaliya. Her father had grown up in Gaza, and in recent days she had been able to stay in contact with his side of the family, relaying their messages to relatives in the United States.

Then came the airstrike. The Israeli military said it had killed a Hamas leader who helped plan the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, and that the strike had hit a network of Hamas tunnels it claimed was below the residential area.

Ms. Hammad’s last WhatsApp messages to her cousin Ahmed, 31, who had told her he was hosting dozens of people in a four-bedroom apartment, went unread.

“I still haven’t heard from him,” she said. “It’s horrible; I’m assuming the worst and I don’t know what to do except wait.”

On Wednesday, the devastated neighborhood, where local officials say dozens were killed and hundreds were wounded in the Tuesday attack — the figures could not be independently confirmed — was hit again. The Gazan Interior Ministry reported that a new Israeli strike had killed and wounded “a number of people.”

Videos verified by The New York Times captured the aftermath of an airstrike on Wednesday in the Falluja neighborhood of Jabaliya approximately half a mile from the site of Tuesday’s strike. The destruction shown is of similar magnitude, with several large buildings completely flattened. Rescue workers and residents can be seen digging through the rubble and carrying what appear to be injured and dead people, including children.

ImageA young girl climbs out from rubble and is surrounded by rescue workers.
A young girl climbs out from the rubble of a destroyed building on Wednesday following the Israeli airstrikes.Credit…Abed Khaled/Associated Press

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 line of 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.

Image

People search for bodies and survivors in Jabaliya refugee camp on Wednesday. Even before the war conditions for residents were challenging.Credit…Mohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock

Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Gaya Gupta, Iyad Abuheweila, Abu Bakr Bashir, Haley Willis, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Christoph Koettl and Victoria Kim contributed reporting.

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