Palestinians in Rafah described a night of fear as Israeli strikes pummeled the area early Monday, killing and wounding dozens, according to the Gazan health ministry, and highlighting the cost of Israel’s military operation to free its hostages.
“I swear to God it was an indescribable night,” said Ghada al-Kurd, 37, who is among more than a million people sheltering in the southern Gaza city. “The bombing was everywhere — we were convinced that the Israeli army was invading Rafah.”
Israel’s military said early Monday that it had conducted a “wave of attacks” on Rafah to provide cover for soldiers who freed two hostages held by Hamas. The health ministry in Gaza said that at least 67 people had been killed in the strikes, and that the toll was likely to rise. The ministry’s figures do not distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Dr. Marwan al-Hamase, the director of Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, said that the hospital had received 100 injured people overnight, along with the bodies of 52 who were killed.
Maher Abu Arar, a spokesman for the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah, said the hospital had taken in at least 15 bodies and 50 wounded people. “There were a lot of body parts,” said Mr. Abu Arar, following “successive and sudden” Israeli strikes.
Ms. al-Kurd said that people in Rafah were panicking and considered evacuating during the night, but “no one knew where to even go.” She added in a voice message that her young nieces “were crying and I was trying to calm them down,” even though she was also “very scared.”
Gazans in Rafah have been wondering if they should evacuate ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive into the city. But many who have already been displaced multiple times since the start of the war have said that they have nowhere else to go.
Ms. al-Kurd sent five short voice messages she recorded during the night in which the sound of intense bombing and machine guns can be heard clearly. In the background of one of the recordings, a young girl cries and calls for her mother. In another message, Ms. al-Kurd says: “The bombing was very close.”
“To simply put it, it was a night full of horror, strikes, death and destruction,” said Akram al-Satri, 47, who is staying in the Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah. He said strikes there began at around 1 a.m. and that there were “very violent clashes.” He added in a voice message on Monday morning that several houses and a mosque in the area had been destroyed.
“The explosions caused a state of panic among men, women and children alike,” Mr. al-Satri said. “The state of panic pushed everyone to pack whatever they had, thinking that the ground invasion of Rafah had begun and that they would live what others have in Khan Younis, Gaza City and the north,” he added, listing areas of Gaza that Israeli ground troops have invaded over the past four months of war.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Istanbul.