Gently, two rescue workers pick up the debris, revealing a human body. They ask a third worker to come help them lift the body, now decomposed and liable to come apart. They walk a few steps before the corpse disintegrates. Each worker is now holding a piece of a cadaver. Other workers are still sifting through the rubble of the Al-Samouni family home, southwest of the neighbourhood of Zeitoun in
Workers salvaged 15 bodies within five hours. Other bodies had been found immediately after the bombing, but the full search had to wait until the Israelis pulled out. According to Palestinian medical sources, nearly 100 were killed in the Al-Samouni house and nearby buildings.
At one site after another, civil defence and rescue teams are helped by hundreds of volunteers. Often they extract bodies that have decomposed after days under the rubble -- bodies that have to be handled carefully and with bare hands. Walking from one site to the other, you cannot help but feel the tragedy unfolding as survivors return to their homes, looking beneath the rubble for family and friends. Some pause and look upwards to heaven, tears streaming down their cheeks. Others cry out, unable to contain their grief.
Bomb-pummelled sites look as if hit by a massive earthquake. Familiar streets seem odd, now blocked by the rubble of collapsed buildings. The Israeli army shelled some streets with bombs weighing one ton, turning them into a terrain of craters and mounds. I am told the tactic was a precaution against roadside bombs potentially planted by the resistance. Sewage streams past the wreckage, filling some of the craters. Electricity and telephone poles lie knocked down by bulldozers and smashed by tanks.
Even the animals met a sad end. In the southeast of Zeitoun, there used to be some cattle and sheep barns. Israeli soldiers fired at the animals when they broke out of the barns, disturbed by the shelling. Now their carcasses litter the roads.
In the heart of
A man approaches the rubble of Al-Qaaqaa Ben Amr Mosque in Al-Tuffah, where crumbled pages of the Quran can be seen among the debris. Moments later he starts screaming frantically.
According to Haaretz newspaper, F-16s dropped 1.5 million kilogrammes of explosives on agricultural areas, wrecking crops and felling trees. Tank tracks can still be seen in the mud.
Six months ago, Adel Zoareb, a 35-year-old television correspondent, built a mud brick house on a piece of land adjacent to the Egyptian border in Rafah. He couldn't use cement because the blockade had caused a shortage in building materials. When Israeli planes started dropping tons of explosives along the border, Adel went to live with his parents. He came back later to find his home destroyed. We climb to the top of the rubble and he points out dozens of adjacent buildings, now totally or partially in ruins.
Mohamed Khalil is trying to salvage school bags from under the rubble of his family's home. He pauses to tell me that his family fled to a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). His house is one of a row of buildings that have been severely bombed. Around us, men and women are sifting through the rubble, trying to extricate anything of value. Then they walk away, bundles on their backs, parcels on their heads, sadness in their eyes.
In Rafah, not only houses near the border were shelled, but also, as happened in most of Gaza, many homes close to those of Hamas officials.
Mohamed Al-Jamal, a journalist with the newspaper Al-Ayyam, is a neighbour of a Hamas leader. His home and that of the Hamas leader have been bombed, but he had left already. Al-Jamal's wife and four children now live with his wife's family. He rotates between his sister's home and that of his in-laws. Before fleeing his house, Al-Jamal forgot to take his personal computer and work-related material. Now all is lost. His employers want him to stop working and take care of his family. But he goes to the houses of his friends and colleagues where he continues to work. He says that it is hard to find a new place to live now, as everyone else is looking for shelter.
Ayman Abu Arida, a journalist, lives in Al-Shabura camp in northern Rafah. When a missile exploded in the park across from his family's home, shrapnel killed one of his sisters. The four-storey house in which the family had a flat is now partially destroyed. Living amid ruins is a fate tens of thousands in