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Locals struggle to escape violence in Gaza after the conflict’s bloodiest day

July 20, 2014 at 7:02 PM EDT
In what was the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years, local residents in the densely populated region are struggling to escape the violence, as the general mood in the Gaza Strip devolves into a stressful, anxious state of mind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As you just heard, there’s been a sharp escalation of fighting in Gaza with those 13 Israeli soldiers and approximately 100 Palestinians killed in clashes earlier today. Since the conflict began, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed. The White House said today Secretary Kerry is heading to Egypt to try to broker a ceasefire. President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu to express serious concern about the growing number of casualties. Today, a top U.N. relief agency official said at least a thousand homes in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair and medical supplies are running low.  He also said there’s been a surge in the number of Palestinians seeking refuge in U.N. shelters.

ROBERT TURNER: “We’ve had massive displacement, we’ve had a tripling in the number displaced in the schools that we run here in Gaza over course the last couple of days. Just received figures we’re now at 70,000 displaced moved in to 57 of our schools.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the situation on the ground there, we are joined on the phone by Noah Browning of Reuters. He is in Gaza City. Noah, you’re just a short, a very short distance away from this neighborhood that we’ve been hearing about all day called Shijaiyah, tell us about what happened there.

NOAH BROWNING: Well, Hari, I would say that this is by far the bloodiest day of the current 13 day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants, and it’s one of the bloodiest days in the modern history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early hours of this morning, in this border town east of Gaza City called Shijaiyah, heavy Israeli shelling started raining down in the early hours, causing severe damage and approaching the scene early hours of this morning, it was a really pitiful sight of thousands of people pouring out, pouring inland westward. Whole families, barefoot children, very worried people. This just puts the general mood in the Gaza Strip in a very stressful, anxious state of mind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the hospitals in the area. How are they coping with the injured?

NOAH BROWNING: The hospitals here are overwhelmed. Reuters colleagues visiting the area said that there were just ghastly scenes of dead and wounded coming in. Headless children, burned women. People had to be treated on the floor of the hospital for lack of space. And unfortunately, the shelling continued most of the day in this affected area so the paramedics could not reach the scene. Actually, one Palestinian paramedic and a local journalist were killed in the morning trying to approach the area.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the border with Egypt, we are hearing that Egypt turned back a group of doctors who were trying to come in today. What about the people from Gaza trying to flee in that direction?

NOAH BROWNING: It’s a very difficult situation for local people trying to escape this violence. As you know Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on the face of the earth and it faces a blockade on all of its borders. The north and east with Israel and the west is the Mediterranean and the south is Egypt. Egypt has not allowed a free flow of goods and people through its border crossing of Gaza since last year when there was a military takeover from Islamists who had been sympathetic to Hamas. So you tend to think that the new leadership of Egypt is not terribly concerned with the humanitarian or political situation going on in Gaza right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Noah Browning of Reuters, thanks so much.