A midnight journey into northern Gaza reveals a shattered warscape | EUROtoday

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

GAZA CITY — To enter Gaza now’s to reach in hell.

On Saturday night time, I crossed by means of the damaged barrier between Israel and Gaza at the back of an Israeli navy jeep, going quick with out lights beneath a crescent moon. Before the breach, I used to be simply capable of make out the bullet-riddled vehicles by the roadside, a number of the a whole bunch of civilian autos attacked by Hamas fighters who poured by means of this similar fence on Oct. 7.

They mark the gateway to battle.

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

Further in, the ruins had been extra tightly packed. These had been neighborhoods simply weeks in the past. Almost no construction was untouched.

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

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

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

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

Hundreds 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. More than 11,000 individuals have been killed, in response to the Gaza Health Ministry, however the official quantity has been frozen for 10 days. Counting the lifeless is not potential, officers say. Communication blackouts make it more and more troublesome to succeed in the residing.

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

Israel is raring to point out what it describes as proof that the hospital was doubling as a Hamas navy base, significantly a just lately found tunnel shaft on the fringe of the compound — although the proof stays inconclusive. On this journey, reporters had been permitted solely a 60-second glimpse right into a steeply pitched shaft, which Israeli commanders say is simply 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 acquire entry to Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt, The Washington Post agreed to not disclose places or particulars of sure navy operations and tools or to {photograph} troopers’ faces. We had been with the navy for all the 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 Post’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 have gained complete control,” stated a lieutenant colonel, the deputy commander of the seventh armored brigade. “In denser areas it is more difficult.”

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

I’ve made many journeys to Gaza throughout my 4 years because the Washington Post’s bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories. Entering the Strip has at all times been troublesome. I final got here in September, navigating the gantlet of Israeli, Hamas and Palestinian Authority checkpoints to succeed in 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 had been nonetheless past imagining, even for these deeply steeped on this lengthy and brutal battle. But there have been clues.

During that 10-day keep, my Gazan colleague Hazem Balousha and I had been informed that the summer season of relative calm in Gaza — as violence spiked within the occupied West Bank — was starting to fray. “It has been quiet, but it is beginning to boil,” Basem Naim, head of Hamas’s Political and International Relations Department, informed us. “There is a lot of pressure under the water.”

We seen an uncommon quantity of computerized weapons hearth coming from a Hamas coaching space north of Gaza City, 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 stated 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 battle

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

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

“In this area, we think there is a Gaza beneath Gaza, said the lieutenant colonel, who has been fighting in Gaza since Israeli ground troops entered in late October.

He was referring to the network of tunnels that Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials said lace the limestone beneath these neighborhoods, a labyrinth described as essential to Hamas’s guerrilla tactics.

“The terrorist will come out of one building to fight, and then disappear and come out of another building,” he stated. “The same terrorist.”

The colonel had led a number of the forces that minimize straight throughout Gaza to the Mediterranean shore within the first days of the bottom invasion. Saturday’s jeep experience ended on that seashore. Not distant was the Roots Hotel, 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. Fortunately, he and his younger household — who had been displaced 5 instances 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 had been no home windows, however the displays 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 seeking 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 few hundred yards from these buildings, by means of a blasted wall in a hospital provide space, by no means seeing any of the a whole bunch 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 lifeless and injured overwhelmed the wards and employees ran out of water, drugs and gas. Doctors operated on soiled flooring with out anesthesia and our bodies had been buried in a mass grave within the hospital courtyard.

A U.N. workforce, led by the World Health Organization, described the ability as “a death zone” after a quick tour on Saturday. “Signs of gunfire and shelling were evident,” the WHO stated in a press release.

Medical employees reported heavy preventing within the hours after Israeli troops first stormed al-Shifa early Wednesday. The IDF informed The Post 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 navy operations, whilst 1000’s of wounded and displaced civilians depend on them for therapy and shelter.

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

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

On Saturday, Hagari stated 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 record,” he stated. “I said ‘It’s not the command and control [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 manner over rubble and tangled cables. We held crimson security lights as much as interview a masked particular forces soldier who described breaching the wall of a storage space within the hospital complicated, trying to find Hamas fighters, then discovering a automotive full of weapons close by.

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

Israel says its forces discovered the tunnel shaft after they detonated the explosives within the automotive and a navy 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 few minute to movie, revealing how precariously we had been crowded across the sloped, debris-littered shaft.

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

Hagari stated that the passage was seemingly booby-trapped and that engineers had been in search of methods to research safely — to guard Israeli troops and probably hostages, two of whom had been just lately found lifeless in close by homes, he stated.

Israel says the shaft is a portal to the broader Hamas tunnel community, a declare The Post can not independently affirm. Pressure 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 navy victory as a deal to pause the preventing and free hostages hangs within the steadiness.

U.S. near take care of Israel and Hamas to pause battle, free some hostages

On the experience again within the personnel provider, the Israeli colonel confirmed movies on his cellphone 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 house buildings, and the way IDF troops had begun taking pictures quickly, each excessive and low, after they entered site visitors junctions.

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

Ultimately, he returned to Hamas’s brutality on Oct. 7. “This is a war zone,” he stated. “We didn’t want to be here but Hamas gave us no choice.”

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