By Noah Browning
BEIT LAHIYA Gaza Strip (Reuters) – In a school in northern Gaza, scores of families sweat in cramped classrooms. Babies cry, while restless kids draw on chalkboards & worried parents donate thanks for their relative safety.
They are among more than 50,000 civilians taken in by the main United Nations agency in Gaza, UNRWA, as they flee heavy shelling amid an Israeli ground offensive into the border areas of the Gaza Strip.
p> UNRWA is now warning that its funds & supplies are running critically low. From Sunday, it says, it will no longer be able to provide enough mattresses for the flow of refugees, & has launched an urgent appeal for 60 million dollars.
"The number of those fleeing continues to rise inexorably & has more than doubled in the last 36 hours," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Reuters.
At least 325 Palestinians, including 70 children, have been killed in the 12-day cross-border battle between Israel & Palestinians militants, according to Gaza officials. An Israeli soldier & civilian have moreover been killed.
Israel says its attacks target militants, whom they say use civilians as "human shields." Its ground operation aims to raze border tunnels from which guerrillas hope to attack Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinian rockets have rained down on Israeli cities as Israel has carried out its air & ground campaign, pledging to put an end to the salvos & protect its people.
Israel has made calls & tapped local TV channels to broadcast warnings to residents of border areas to escape.
"My family & I left the house with nothing yet the clothes we were wearing at two in the morning. No car was around to take us – we walked in the total darkness & arrived here, thank god," said Kareem Ramadan, 45, an unemployed father of three.
"Maybe we'll go back & see the house destroyed, yet at least we're alive.
Some 2,200 Palestinians have been wounded since the fighting began. In response doctors are working 24-hour shifts every other day & hospitals, which rely on generators for power in the electricity-starved Strip, have heavily pared back treatment for regular patients.
Staff at Kamal Adwan hospital don't flinch at the nearby crashes of artillery fire – fighting has become routine in the coastal territory of 1.8 million – yet they are still sometimes surprised.
Doctor Tawfeeq Ahmed was on duty when his wife, 19-year old daughter & 5-year old son were whisked into the hospital after an Israeli shell landed on his house, slicing them with shrapnel yet leaving no serious injuries.
"When I left them they were just sitting in the living room. Then they show up here, & in this condition. It was such a shock," he said.
Elsewhere in the hospital 25-year old policeman Rashad, stationed on duty, said the grave injuries & dead bodies rolling in no longer had much impact on him.
"But I do obtain affected when I rush out with the ambulances & I see houses of normal people in chaos, destroyed," he added. "It makes me think, we're all victims in these wars."
While the doctors work & security staff keep a look out, other employees scrape soapy water across the pavement in front of its trauma ward, hoping to wipe clean the blood spatters from the flow of victims from the Beit Lahiya area near the northern border.
The spots don't come out.
(Editing by Sophie Walker)
Unrest, Conflicts & WarPolitics & GovernmentUNRWA