An Israeli strike targeting a Hamas commander in the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza caused catastrophic damage and killed scores of people, according to eyewitnesses and medics in the enclave.
“I was waiting in line to buy bread and suddenly seven to eight missiles fell without warning,” eyewitness Mohammad Ibrahim told CNN.
“There were seven to eight big holes in the ground, full of dead people, body parts,” he said. “It felt like the end of the world.”
According to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces, the airstrike targeted and killed Ibrahim Biari, who it described as one of the Hamas commanders responsible for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people and took hundreds hostage.
The IDF said “several Hamas terrorists” were hit in the strike and the Central Jabalya Battalion took control of civilian buildings.
However, Hamas has vehemently denied that any of its leaders are in the camp. Hazem Kasim, a spokesman for the militant group, accused Israel of trying to justify what he described as a “heinous crime against innocent civilians, children and women in the Jabalya camp.”
Eyewitness Mohammed Al Aswad described a “terrible scene” after the strike, telling CNN he ran to the refugee camp to check on family when he heard the missiles land.
“Children were running carrying other injured children, ash filled the air. Bodies were hanging from the rubble, many of them unidentified. Some were bleeding, others were burned,” Al Aswat told CNN by phone.
The people of the area are going crazy, he said. “I saw women screaming and confused. They didn’t know whether to cry for the loss of their children or run and look for them, especially since there were so many children playing in the neighborhood.
Pictures from the scene showed a large chasm between the rubble and damaged buildings. Palestinians and rescue workers can be seen trying to find victims, some using their hands to clear detritus.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht accused them of “hiding behind civilians, as they do.” Reminded that there were many innocent civilians in the camp, Hecht replied, “This is the tragedy of war” and urged the civilians to go south.
Southern Gaza has also seen deadly airstrikes, and aid agencies have repeatedly warned that there is no safe place in the isolated enclave. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 8,485 people and injured more than 21,000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah.
At the Indonesian hospital, a large medical facility near Jabalya, videos showed long lines of bodies lying on the hospital floor, as doctors rushed to treat the wounds of scores of injured people, including children.
The hospital was overcrowded and several injured were seen being treated on the ground. The head of the hospital, Dr. Atef Al-Khalhoud, estimated that many people were killed in the blast.
“What you see is an unimaginable sight: wounded martyrs, hundreds of charred bodies,” said another doctor, Mohammed Al Ran. “All we can do is take them. Most of the injuries are from explosives and head injuries and amputations.”
Twenty homes were “totally destroyed” in the blast, according to the Hamas-controlled interior ministry in Gaza.
After the bombing, Israeli human rights group B’tselem condemned weeks of Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza, saying in a statement released Tuesday that “the scale of Israeli killing and the continued destruction of Gaza is appalling.”
“More than 8,000 people have been killed so far, more than half of them women and children. Buildings have all collapsed and residents are trapped inside. Entire families have been destroyed in an instant. This criminal harm to civilians is intolerable and must be repeated frankly – including in the war on Hamas, all in war.” Not allowed,” it said.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the strike as a “massacre”, citing “chilling documented scenes” of children and women. “Its bones lie in a large-scale massacre carried out in full view of the world and under the pretext of self-defense,” the statement added.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and Egypt have also condemned the strike, with Egypt accusing Israel of violating international law by targeting an “inhumane” settlement. “Egypt considers this a new flagrant violation by Israeli forces against the provisions of international law and international humanitarian law,” the ministry said.
When pressed repeatedly throughout the White House briefing on the Jabalya strike and whether Israel was doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US had “signs they are trying.”
“We’re not going to react in real time to every event, but we’re certainly aware that civilians have been injured,” he said. “Civilians have been killed in the thousands … we recognize that, we observe, and we do not accept any civilian deaths in Gaza.”
“It is not the aim of the Israeli forces to go out and kill innocent civilians, and they have made efforts to minimize that,” he added.
This story is evolving and being updated.