The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza, as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory, ruled by Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children. Most of those killed were security men, but civilians were among the dead.
Said Masri sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, close to a security compound, alternately slapping his face and covering his head with dust from the bombed-out building.
Gaza under fire (Photo: AP)
"My son is gone, my son is gone," wailed Masri, 57. The shopkeeper said he sent his nine-year-old son out to purchase cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and now could not find him. "May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn," Masri moaned.
In Gaza City's main security compound, bodies of more than a dozen uniformed security officers lay on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. The Gaza police chief was among those killed. One man, his face bloodied, sat dazed on the ground as a fire raged nearby.
'What to expect next?'
Abu Muhammad, a resident of Beit Lahiya, told Ynet that the residents' morale was very low. "The atmosphere is tragic, this is a terrible massacre," he said.
"Everybody is saying, if this is only the beginning – what should we expect next?" he added. "Tomorrow we have to go to work, and it will probably get worse. The situation of the children in school was extremely bad, because some of the compounds that have been attacked were located near schools. Windows were shattered and children were injured. People frantically ran to get their children out," he described.
Earlier Saturday Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "Palestine has never seen an uglier massacre" and in Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal called for a new Palestinian peoples' uprising against Israel.
"We will not leave our land, we will not raise white flags and we will not kneel except before God," Haniyeh said.
News agencies contributed to this report