Dozens killed by Israeli forces in Gaza as US opens new Jerusalem embassy

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Jerusalem 
Over 60 Palestinians were killed and 2,700 injured when Israeli forces opened fire on protesters yesterday as the United States broke with decades of diplomatic precedent and opened an embassy in Jerusalem.

President Trump hailed the opening as a great day for Israel as clashes erupted between Palestinians and security forces on the Gaza border.

The Palestinian government accused Israel of carrying out a “terrible massacre” but the army insisted that Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, had been leading a “terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people”.

The Palestinian health ministry said that nine of the dead killed at the border fence were children and included a baby who died from inhaling tear gas. The demonstrators, some armed with catapults, hurled stones at Israeli security forces, who responded with volleys of tear gas, some dropped by drones, and bullets. Israel also launched air strikes inside Gaza at Hamas military targets.

A ceremony took place in Jerusalem to open the new embassy on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. The move has been highly contentious because the Palestinian authorities claim east Jerusalem as their capital. Most countries, including European allies of the US, have kept their embassies in Tel Aviv. Britain, France and Germany boycotted the ceremony.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, thanked Mr Trump, whose daughter Ivanka was at the event, for “having the courage” to move the embassy. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, who was also in Jerusalem, accused the protesters of provoking the violence.

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu join Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy opening
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu join Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at the embassy openingGETTY IMAGES

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response.”

In London, President Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of state terrorism and genocide. Turkey recalled its ambassadors from Israel and the US.

Israel’s gas and gunfire stop Palestinians storming border
The deadliest day for Gaza in four years began with tens of thousands of people marching towards the Israeli border. Angered by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, many of them set out to breach the border fence, despite grim warnings from the Israeli military to steer clear. In a matter of hours dozens were dead.

White tendrils from a barrage of tear gas canisters, some dropped from drones, pierced the plumes of black smoke from tyres set alight by Palestinians. Protesters gathering at five points along Gaza’s borders hurled stones at the Israeli troops. Some sent burning kites at the line of soldiers. Three Palestinians were reported to have been shot while planting a bomb.

“It felt like your lungs were being torn apart. They were using drones to drop the gas in the middle of the crowds. Each round would contain ten to 12 gas canisters,” said Ahmed Rezeq, 26, who was injured in the leg. “The shooting was direct, it was mostly live ammunition targeting limbs, legs, and knees. Many were hit by explosive bullets, so needed amputations.”

According to the health ministry in Gaza at least 59 people, nine of them under the age of 16 and including a baby, were killed and more than 2,700 injured, the worst day of violence since 2014. The ministry said 130 of the wounded were in a serious condition. Rallies also erupted throughout the Gaza strip, the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Gaza’s hospitals put out urgent pleas for fresh supplies as doctors struggled to cope with waves of injured protesters being brought in. Human rights groups including Amnesty International condemned the excessive use of lethal weaponry as “abhorrent”. The Palestinians said 1,360 people had been injured by gunfire.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, declared three days of mourning. “The US is no longer a mediator in the Middle East,” he said. The new US embassy in Jerusalem was tantamount to “a new American settler outpost”, he added…

 

Click to read full article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dozens-die-as-us-opens-new-jerusalem-embassy-0zmnzhz8n

 

Photo: GETTY IMAGES

We protest so our children know we once had a home, say Palestinians

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Deir al-Balah, Gaza

Even though he knew there was a risk of being shot, as Abdel al-Mohsleh saw it there was a good reason to take his 11-year-old son to the border protests in Gaza. Like many parents in the blockaded strip, he feared that his children would grow up not knowing they were refugees forced from their ancestral lands in Israel when it was founded 70 years ago this week.

That was why he needed to take him towards the fence and teach him about the conflict.

“We fear that when the old people die, when we ourselves pass, the children will forget why we are even trapped here in Gaza,” Mr Mohsleh said.

Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on Monday
Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on MondayADEL HANA/AP

During the protests Mr Mohsleh, 42, whose family is originally from an area near Ashkelon, just a few miles north on Israel’s coast, was separated from Rakan when an Israeli drone dropped eight tear-gas canisters on them.

While they were apart his son, who had been waving a Palestinian flag, was hit by an Israeli bullet.

“I went to protest but I was shot while waving my flag,” said Rakan, whose arm hangs limp in a rudimentary sling at a hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza. “There was no ambulance. I was all alone because of the gas. An old man found me and took me to the hospital.”

He was among 2,700 injured and 62 killed on Monday, the consequences of which continue to reverberate internationally. Hamas, which runs Gaza, said yesterday that 50 of the dead were its members. It said that 12 were not and were likely to include the eight children under 16 who died, including an eight-month-old baby.

Hamas accepted a convoy of aid sent from the Palestinian authority in the West Bank but declined lorry loads sent by Israel, some of which contained treadmills to help rehabilitate those hit in the legs by bullets.

Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a drone
Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a droneSPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Turkey asked Israeli diplomats to leave the country, provoking a rebuke from Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister, who posted an altered image of the Turkish flag on the internet using the Islamic crescent to help spell “F*C* Turkey”.

Rakan and many other children will need all the help they can get. Of the 10,000 people who were wounded since the rallies were first called six weeks ago at least 1,000 were minors, according to Save the Children, and at least 250 were hit with live ammunition…

 

For full story read: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-protest-so-our-children-know-we-once-had-a-home-say-palestinians-7zmbnbpgm

Photo: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Gaza ceasefire: Who really won?


Ahram

 

 


The historic Gaza-Israel truce saw Egypt take centre-stage as a major geo-political player: as details of the ceasefire are fine-tuned amid growing instability in Egypt, Bel Trew takes a closer look at the losses and gains

The Gaza-Israel ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egypt and the US one week ago, has been largely forgotten amid Egypt’s current domestic troubles, as the country witnesses mass protests against President Mohamed Morsi’s “power grab” Constitutional Declaration and the pushing through of new Constitution.

Nevertheless, the historic truce – which ended eight days of cross-border rocket attacks – is seen by analysts as a highly significant development for the future of Middle-Eastern geopolitics, with much debate over who actually came out on top.

The agreement stipulates that hostilities by both sides, in the form of rockets and air and sea invasions, must stop, and that Israel must ease its maritime and border siege of the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, many see the ceasefire as a defeat for the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

“The reaction in Israel is overwhelmingly negative,” explained Al Jazeera journalist Gregg Carlstrom, who was based on Israel’s border with Gaza throughout the course of the conflict.

Carlstrom described residents dragging mattresses to the hilltops overlooking the strip, and one Israeli man eating pizza while watching rockets pummel the Palestinian territory.

However, public support for the government during the offensive quickly turned to criticism when the terms of the truce were announced.

“The consensus here was that if Israel agrees to a ceasefire, then it will be broken and we’ll face another war in the future,” Carlstrom explained. “The people said they would like to see Hamas totally defeated, otherwise this truce gives Hamas time to re-arm and the whole process will be repeated.”

Residents he spoke to were pushing for a ground invasion. Nevertheless, when the 40,000 reserve troops were stationed at the Gaza borders, he said they were “surprisingly negative.”

“They recognised it was just for show, and because the troops were basically sitting in empty fields without shelter within rocket range, the people here thought they were sitting ducks,” Carlstrom said.

Overall, Carlstrom concluded that they believed that all Israel got out of this truce was temporary quiet. “A few people I spoke to even said Hamas had won,” he said.

Hamas: A regional power?

Certainly, minutes after the ceasefire was announced in Cairo on 21 November, there were jubilant and celebratory scenes as thousands took to the streets of Gaza – which had resembled a ghost town during Israel’s weeklong onslaught.

“I think it’s pretty clear who came out of this conflict a winner. Israel has continuously run on the platform that it is invincible, but [Hamas] has been able to refute this assertion,” Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Ahram Online. During the conflict, approximately 1,456 Hamas rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The number and reach of the rocket-fire was unprecedented, asserted Reem Abou-El-Fadl, junior research fellow in international relations and Middle East politics at Oxford University.
Consequently, Gaza has to be seen as the victor, as it resisted the massive onslaught while showing impressive resilience.

Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings-Doha Centre, agreed.

“Hamas can claim victory as long as it stands up to Israel’s rockets,” he said, adding that Arab officials entering Gaza – together with shows of solidarity from Turkey, Egypt and Qatar – meant that Hamas now enjoyed extraordinary regional legitimacy. 

”It’s recognised as a political actor,” Hamid said. “Leaders of Hamas are being treated as leaders of a state, perhaps better treated.”

On a domestic level, human rights attorney and teaching fellow at Temple Law School Noura Erakat said that the combination of welcoming Arab diplomats and demonstrating enhanced military capacity not only ensured that Hamas was able to secure favourable terms in the ceasefire, but coincided with the fading relevance of rival Palestinian faction Fatah’s “strategy of negotiation and compliance.”

Hamas leader El-Zahar added that all their conditions had been included in the ceasefire agreement, such as the easing of maritime borders, although he was reserved about calling the agreement a “ceasefire” or “truce,” preferring to describe it as “a relative calm in violence.”

Despite government promises and calls from large sections of the Israeli public, Israel’s objective appears not to have been to destroy Hamas or to flatten Gaza.

Ahead of the January 2013 elections, commentators have claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to show a bit of muscle with the attack on Gaza.

However, international pressure on Tel-Aviv, prevented him from escalating operation “Pillar of Defense.”

“Netanyhu’s aim was to stop the rocket fire in the short term ahead of the [January 2013] elections,” Carlstom speculated, adding an ongoing war with Gaza as people headed to the polls, particularly as rocket fire was reaching the capital, would have damaged the incumbant’s chances.

So keeping the truce, Carlstrom continued, is vital to the current administration: if there is another barrage of rockets in the weeks preceding the polls, “people are going to say we told you so – Netanyahu will lose massive support at the polls, and the ceasefire will have backfired.”

For its part, Hamas did not want to escalate the conflict either: a ground invasion could have been devastating and may not have fulfilled their key demand of eased borders.

For once it appears that the interests of Hamas and Israel converged: they both wanted the rocket fire to stop.

Even America, who oversaw the negotiations as Israel’s staunch ally and pledged to replenish Israel’s depleted “Iron Dome” and arms capacities, regards war in the region as a “disaster.”

“America is stuck in a conflict where there is almost no good outcome,” said Eric Trager, New Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute, “the best outcome for the US is non-belligerence.”

The ceasing of hostilities for them was the only conclusion.

However, the ceasefire remains extremely fragile.

Only hours following the ceasefire, around 12 rockets were fired into Israel. Hamas denied responsibility, showing that Gaza’s ruling movement may not have complete control over the other armed Palestinian factions and so cannot promise to uphold the ceasefire terms.

Meanwhile, Israel on Saturday gunned down a 23 year-old Palestinian man and injured 15 for “attempting to breach the border”, the army claimed.

In addition, at least ten Gazan fishermen have been detained by Israeli authorities despite the ceasefire allowing them to fish three miles further out to sea than previously permitted by Israel.

While Gaza feels the blow of Israel’s violations of the truce and with Israel getting little more than peace and quiet, the question remains: who really came out on top?

Egypt: International player

The negotiations have been largely attributed to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, leading many observers to point out that Time magazine’s expected “Man of the year” might have been the one figure who gained the most from the agreement.

“It has become clear that the key to peace and war in the region is in the hands of Egypt,” an informed Egyptian diplomatic source told Ahram Online.

This, the source added, has reaffirmed Egypt’s central role in the region.

Mohamed Assem Ibrahim, former ambassador to Israel from 2005 to 2008, commented that Egypt positioned itself as the sole entity able to speak with the two sides, so the only force able to pull off the truce.

However, Ibrahim maintained that “this is a conflict that no one lost.”

Israel, while appearing to be in the weakest position, Ibrahim said, was at the very least able to show off its military capabilities with the anti-rocket defense “Iron Dome” system.

Relations with Israel

Many were expecting Morsi to decisively shift Egyptian foreign policy towards Israel, as Egypt’s first democratically elected president who also hails from an Islamist group.

Abou-El-Fadl claims that Morsi’s position confirms what many had suspected: the president is maintaining a conservative position to the Palestinian question.

“Egypt’s President is unwilling to change the status quo which Mubarak left and used this stance to secure US support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”

She claims that all moves made so far can only be characterised as cosmetic changes, including the withdrawal of the ambassador, which did not see the closing down of the embassy and the opening of Rafah border crossing.

Even Prime Minister Hisham Qandil’s visit to Gaza on 16 November, still resembled the language of deposed president Hosni Mubarak and Anwar El-Sadat’s regime.

“Speaking about peace for all nations in the region, as opposed to the fiery discourse traditionally employed by the Islamists on Palestine was indicative of this position,” she noted.

American observers also see little change in Egypt’s position on Israel.

Washington Institute’s Trager said the accomplishment for Egypt was that Morsi did not have to agree to Egypt doing anything in the ceasefire agreement.

This is something he said the international community has overlooked.

“While Israel was forced to concede the borders opening and Hamas to end rocket attacks, Morsi conceded nothing, especially any Egyptian role in preventing Hamas from re-arming,” Trager said.

In addition, the Egyptian president did not have to fully recognise Israel, despite Washington reading it that way.

Morsi refused to meet with Israeli officials and outsourced negotiations to intelligence professionals as well as authoring terms of a truce which left Hamas stronger, Trager asserted.

Nevertheless Morsi proved himself to be pragmatic on the regional and global stage, which aside from winning him brownie points in the international community, secured him real financial gains.

“He is learning how to play the foreign policy game,” Trager continued,” and how to have good relations with the US as this is critical to economic recovery for Egypt.”

This is why the release of the internationally panned Constitutional Declaration could be so potentially damning.

There are fears that as the country becomes increasingly unstable the International Monetary Fund’s $4.8billion loan and US economic aid might be retracted.

“The bottom line is the international community has been very slow to see the Brotherhood for what they are… to see their dictatorial tendencies,” Trager asserted, citing Morsi’s decree as an example of Brotherhood power grabs.

“Morsi created the illusion to the US that he could serve as some sort of negotiator between Hamas and Israel.”

The US, he said, wants to believe that whatever disagreement they have with Morsi’s ideas and rhetoric he can still be an ally for “counter-terrorism regional peace.”

However, Trager added, as long as the Egyptian president continues to establish a new dictatorship that creates chaos in Egypt this will not be possible.

Morsi, relying on this new political capital gained from negotiating the truce, may have overstepped the mark by releasing the Constitutional Declaration and pushing through a controversial Constitution at such a crucial stage.

An escalating breakdown within Egypt’s domestic political arena could seriously impact ongoing negotiations to buttress the Israel-Gaza tentative truce: how can the Egyptian president broker peace deals, if he does not have a handle on the situation at home?

The international fallout from Morsi’s power grab, commentators say, remains to be seen.

“We give our lives to Gaza” – Egyptians break seige

It was a mad mission. On the bloodiest night of the latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza, over 550 Egyptian revolutionaries in 11 buses drove over the border to the besieged territory. The unprecedented expression of solidarity challenged their country’s siege on the strip.

Activists, who had fought their own war for independence on Tahrir Square, watched for the first time, from the windows of the buses, rockets fall from the sky.

As regular as a heartbeat, the missiles landed on either side of the buses that drove through a pitch-black Gaza to the main city.

Surveillance drones buzzed a continuous base note in the background.

Rocket lands metres away from the convoy, a building goes up in smoke in Gaza City 

It was reportedly the single largest number of civilians to successfully enter Gaza in a solidarity convoy since the creation of Israel.

“Egypt shares a border with the Gaza strip, the Egyptian regime is as just as much as a part of the siege on Gaza as Israel,” said Philip Rizk, a member of revolutionary media collective Mosireen, about the significance of the crossing.

Currently Egypt prevents all trade with the Palestinian territory and there are month-long waiting lists for Gazans to cross, despite promises the border would open post-revolution.

Entrance into Gaza for Egyptians is also difficult: travelling via the tunnels has become a necessary and dangerous alternative.

The coalition of leftist political groups who organised Sunday’s convoy, never expected to get more than 50 people in – on the way they had drawn lots to determine who would enter.

In 2009, during the last Israeli offensive and under the Mubarak regime, a similar convoy fled as military police stormed the buses at the Rafah crossing.

This time, however, all 561 protesters were let through. Gazans cheered the buses on as we drove through the airstrike.

A shared history and objective was the topic of conversation when the Palestinians and Egyptians met at Gaza City’s main hospital for a press conference about the historic convoy.

A child is rushed into the emergency room at Al-Shifaa hospital, Gaza City

Speaking to the crowds, who chanted “We give our lives to Gaza”, the Gazan Minister of Health Hani Abdeen, talked about Palestinians and Egyptians being one people with one history.

“Palestine must be liberated in order to ensure the wellbeing and safety of Egypt,” he said. Hamas and Israeli rocket-fire blasted in the background.

The Egyptian activists echoed his sentiments.

Ragia Omran, a convoy organiser and lawyer who works with rights groups, thanked the Gazans for bringing Egyptians together.

“We came to the streets and united for the first time after the Second Intifada [in 2002],” she said, explaining how these protests were in many ways the beginning of the revolutionary movement in Egypt.

Later, sitting in the living room of one Gazan family who lived next to the hospital, the mother told me how she followed last year’s Egyptian Revolution, obsessively online and on the television. The future of Egypt, she said, was the future of Palestine.

Trapped in her house for fear of the sky, she and daughters now track the explosions shattering her neighbourhood in the same way.

Over 500 protesters chant in support of Palestine in the Rafah border crossing

At night the shelling gets worse. It was deemed too dangerous for the convoy to cross back over to Egypt, so we stayed: hundreds of us sleeping on the streets.

In the thick of the onslaught, the hospital offered up their wards for people to camp in and opened a kebab shop to feed the 500.

Suddenly a rocket exploded metres away from the resting convoy and hospital.

The pressure change pummelled our chests and the world shook. People dived for cover in the food stand.

A few minutes later a second missile landed on the other of the hospital. The air smelled of charred metal and masonry.

Our Palestinian escorts later told us that they believed that the convoy was being targeted by Israel as a warning.

Just before dawn, the violence escalated. A three-storey building, in nearby a residential area, was hit killing 14 in one go. Three more houses collapsed.

“It was heartbreaking as most of the injured were children,” says Gigi Ibrahim, an Egyptian activist describing distraught families in the chaotic emergency room.

Injured toddler treated at ER in Gaza’s main hospital

Children cloaked in rubble dust sat with blank faces, babies just a few months old were brought in with shrapnel wounds and people desperately searched for their loved ones.

The morgue, Palestinian doctor Zakaria told us, was filled with children. “The majority of the people the paramedics bring in now are civilians.”

As the sun rose, we learned that night had seen the highest number of fatalities since the start of the offensive. 24 were killed that night.

Rockets followed us all the way back to the border. One, landing directly in our path, forced the buses to change direction.

Injured woman rushed in past barrage of reporters, Al-Shifaa hospital

“The convoy getting through is a few steps forward for Egypt,” said Ibrahim, “Although President Mohamed Morsi has phrased himself as a pro-Palestinian revolutionary, this has yet to be translated into action.”

Taking up Mubarak’s mantle as the peace broker for the region, Morsi is currently negotiating a cease fire, however, Ibrahim argued this is not enough. Camp David, she added, must be rejected, referring to the contentious 1979 peace accords between Egypt and Israel. Relations in the region are still being shaped post-Arab Spring.

The final destination of the convoy was Mohamed Mahmoud Street, in downtown Cairo, which on Monday had become the scene of fierce street battles between Egyptian protesters and the police again: a stark reminder of the domestic conflicts still dividing Egypt. The convoy joined the protesters confronting the security forces. The Palestinian flags melted into the crowds.

All photos: Gigi Ibrahim

 

Eyewitness from Gaza: Convoy breaks the seige

Over 500 Egyptian activists cross into Gaza in Egypt’s largest solidarity convoy during one of the bloodiest days of the ongoing Israeli offensive; Bel Trew who traveled with the group reports back

Five minutes after a Gaza-bound convoy of 330 Egyptian activists arrived at the Rafah border crossing, the bombing started.

Even on the Egyptian side the ground shook. A grey circle of cloud signalling the presence of an Israel rocket rose above the terminal.

The booms only ignited the activists’ chants, who hailed from groups such as the Revolutionary Socialists, the Constitution Party, the Popular Current, the Strong Egypt Party, the Egyptian Current and the Nasserist party.

“Resistance is the only solution against the traitor and occupier,” the groups called out to sheepis-looking border patrol, as they marched towards the border brandishing Palestinian flags.

Only 50 were expected to enter Gaza, a number agreed on by the convoy organisers due to the security risk and logistical headache of moving hundreds of people around a conflict zone.

Emotions were high when each bus drew its lottery and the names of the “lucky” few where chosen.

Nevertheless, everyone was ultimately allowed through, regardless of some lack of passports, military papers and official documentation: an unprecedented event unheard of under the Mubarak-regime.

With rumours of a parliamentary and Muslim Brotherhood delegation led by FJP head Saad Katatni on its way to the crossing, it seemed as if the Egyptian police wanted to relieve themselves of the responsibility of such a determined group.

Inside the madhouse of the border terminal, more groups joined the convoy, pushing the numbers to 561.

With over 600 people crossing into Gaza, the convoy was the single largest civilian group to enter the strip since 1967 and one of the largest expressions of solidarity ever.

After a four hour wait, people crossed over to Gaza, piled into vehicles provided at the last minute by Hamas, and the bombing began again.

Eight buses drove off into a pitch-black Gaza: the silence only punctured with the fatal drum-beat of the rocket fire.

Landing on either side of the convoy as it made its way to Gaza City, the missiles were disorientating and the landscape empty.

But as we rode into the city, Gazans appeared on half-lit streets and whistled at the solidarity convoy.

Loud cheers erupted in the buses, people began singing pro-Palestine traditional songs and shouting, “We give our lives to Gaza.” They hung flags out of the windows and both sides peace-signed each other.

In spite of the explosions, it felt like a celebration.

The rockets continued to rein down on Gaza like clockwork, every five minutes Israel’s ‘Pillar of Defense’ operation would create a pillar of smoke. Another building. would fall.

We reached Gaza City, where they began the press conference at Al-Shifaa hospital, Gaza’s main medical complex.

The hundreds-strong crowds of Egyptians and Palestinians took over the main hospital courtyard, carrying a huge Palestinian flag. Israel and Hamas exchanged fire someway off in the distance as the speeches began.

Gaza’s Minister of Health opened the event.

Although the continued US-backed Israeli aggression claims so many lives, he said, it does not take away the spirit of resistance, especially when Egyptians and Palestinians stand side-by-side to back the Palestinian cause.

Convoy organisers, many of whom are prominent Egyptian activists, also spoke.

The Egyptian Revolution, they said, will not succeed unless Palestine is free.

An ambulance carrying the latest casualty of Israel’s airstrikes closed the event: a stark reminder of the immediacy of the situation.

Speaking to local families who live near the hospital, they told us Israeli surveillance drones hover above the city all day and night.

Their continual buzz is the base note to the noises of a Gazan night under fire.

One family told us that civilians hide in their homes, trawling through news channels and the internet when the electricity is on, to find updates on bomb attacks while praying their home is spared.

Schools, they said, had been closed since Wednesday.

Back at the hospital Hamas police officers in their blue military uniforms manned the grounds, while Qassam Brigade members sat and chatted with us at the local red-lit kebab shop, which was opened specially for the convey.

Despite previous plans to camp out at a stadium (which was bombed the next morning) and a nearby hotel, the 561-strong convoy slept on the streets and in the buses outside of the hospital due to security fears.

The hospital is largely seen to be a safe zone. So far it has not been hit.

However, nowhere is truly safe. The city is held hostage by the bombings, which hit unexpectedly and in seemingly random locations.

The explosions appear from nowhere, with no warning, there is no vapour trail or dramatic screeching sound. Just a thundering boom followed by ambulance sirens and a building collapse.

All the residents can do, caught in the crossfire, is wait for the next onslaught.

After midnight, the situation escalated. A rocket landed just 500 metres away from where convoy were resting.

This was the first hit that scattered the crowd. Some of us sheltered in the kebab shop, some fell into a neighbouring news agency.

Nearby building and buses shook. A rush of air pressed against our chest and ears.
A few minutes later a second rocket dropped on the other side of the hospital. A warning message, perhaps?

At least 25 people died through the night, the bloodiest since the start of the offensive, and the overwhelming majority were civilians, a cool-headed Al-Shifaa hospital doctor told us.

Then at around 4am, the ambulances began pouring into the medical centre. Retaliatory fire from Hamas was heard.

With frightening efficiency, paramedics would offload the bodies, clean the stretcher and race back to yet another bombsite.

As four buildings collapsed, a lot of injured children started arriving- some sat like ghosts in a thin covering of rubble dust, paralysed by shock.

Frenzied scenes were witnessed in the hospital emergency rooms, with distraught families, bloodied bodies and journalists hovering.

The morgue, an exhausted looking paramedic told us, was mostly filled with children killed by shrapnel wounds.

All the way back, our nine vehicle convoy was followed by recurring bombings. One landed directly in our path, leading the convoy to change direction. Some suggested that the Israelis were doing so deliberately.

The last explosion, leaving a spectacular ring of smoke on the horizon, echoed over the border crossing as we boarded the bus.