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Fear stalks Gaza as Israel begins ground assault


Palestinian medics attend to a man, seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike, at the Khan Yunis hospital in the Gaza Strip, Friday. — AFP

Gaza: Gaza's Palestinians hunkered down in fear for their lives while Hamas resistance fighters urged defiance after Israel sent forces into the densely populated territory on Thursday after 10 days of cross-border fire.

Residents largely abandoned the usually teeming streets after a fevered night of bombardment. Ships spitting machine-gun fire drifted closer to the desert enclave's Mediterranean shore, artillery shells lit the skyline orange every few seconds and buildings shook from the air attacks.

Small groups of drowsy men trudged to Friday prayers in Gaza City despite the frequent boom of Israeli artillery.

"We're terrified. My whole family hears the bombs fall around us and we could be hit any time. We feel like there's nothing we can do to protect ourselves," said Yousef Al Hayek, 60, wearing a white robe and clasping prayer beads.

"Everything's in God's hands. The invasion was expected, but how it will end is not yet clear. We hope for a truce."

23 Palestinians killed
Among the 23 Palestinians killed in the night darkness after Israeli announced ground operations to destroy underground tunnels used by the fighters were three young cousins, aged between 4 and 26.

They fled with their families from Israeli tank fire in an eastern border town, only to be killed when the house to which they fled was shelled, a relative told Reuters at their funeral.

Palestinian medics say 222 of the 260 Gazans killed in the hostilities have been civilians, including 40 children.

Hamas said it welcomed Israel's ground thrust and looked forward to killing and capturing soldiers after many of its some 1,400 rockets — according to the Israeli military — so far were deflected by missile defences. Just one Israeli civilian has been killed, as well as one soldier in the incursion.

The Israeli military has warned Palestinians of impending strikes by telephoning residents of targeted houses, dropping disabled warning bombs on their roofs and strewing leaflets across endangered neighbourhoods.

UN shelters
It has repeatedly hacked Hamas's Al Aqsa TV channel to broadcast the warnings, but the areas so far mentioned are home to several hundred thousand people. While around 30,000 have fled to temporary UN shelters, many insist they will stay put.

"It's impossible for everybody from my area to flee. Where would they all go?" said Faris Aryan, a shopkeeper from the town of Beit Lahiya.

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