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GAZA CITY—Gaza residents suffering wave after wave of Israeli bombing on Monday reacted with horror, as Hamas threatened to start executing Israeli hostages on camera each time a civilian is killed in an airstrike without warning.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, made the blood-chilling threat after a day of heavy bombing across the Gaza Strip in response to the militants’ raid on Israel over the weekend, which killed at least 700 people and resulted in scores more being taken as hostages.
“From this moment on, we announce that every targeting of our people who are safe in their homes without prior warning will be met with regret by the execution of one or our enemy’s civilian hostages and we will broadcast this with sound and video,” Ubaida said.
The brutality of the threat appalled Gaza residents, who have been forced to live under the rule of Hamas, whether they want to or not.
“This is wrong,” said Nema Yousef, 61, from Gaza City. “You should not do the wrong thing, just because the Israelis are doing the wrong thing.”
Many Gazans heard echoes of the so-called Islamic State, which attempted to glorify its acts of terror in slickly produced videos of its brutality, but succeeded only in turning both the Islamic world and the West against them.
“If they do this, they will be like ISIS, who damaged the image of Islam,” Yousef told The Daily Beast.
Speaking in between Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, Hiba Mohammed, 41, said, “This is totally wrong. Hamas started the fight for a swap deal not for killing and this also does not fit with our Islamic principles. Though the Israeli army is killing civilians and destroying more buildings they should pressure with the alive Israelis and their numbers and nationalities.”
Not everyone agrees. Rana Ibrahim, 36, in Gaza City, said she thought this kind of threat was the only way to stop the attacks. “I agree that this should be done because no one in the world is caring for us,” she said. “If Hamas kept the hostages safe this makes no difference, so I agree they should pressure the Israeli government to stop this war.”
The threat came after a day of relentless airstrikes on Gaza, which have killed hundreds and damaged homes, roads, mosques, and amenities all across the besieged territory. This followed the worst attack on Israel in 50 years launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.
At 11:30 a.m. on Monday, an Israeli missile hit the busiest shopping street in Gaza’s largest refugee camp. Two houses that were likely targeted by the strike were obliterated but the brutal impact of the blast was felt much wider with flames ripping through the bustling area.
An eyewitness told The Daily Beast that the street was strewn with bodies and burning vehicles. The Ministry of Health reported that 50 people were confirmed dead, while many others were still missing.
Muhammad Musa, 33, a young resident of Jabalia, survived the blast, which hit Trans Street at around 1 p.m.
“The entire area was engulfed in flames, with taxis catching fire, and we discovered lifeless bodies and severely injured individuals scattered about,” he told The Daily Beast. “Some victims remained trapped under the collapsed structure of one of the targeted houses, while bulldozers worked feverishly to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of those still inside.
“The blast targeted two adjacent houses, reducing them to rubble in a matter of seconds,” added Musa. “Across from these houses, a large bakery and commercial center went up in flames, along with an electricity generator that supplied power to the stores.”
Mains electricity supply has become increasingly scarce. On Monday, Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said he was orchestrating a total siege on Gaza, which is home to more than two million people.
“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything is closed,” Gallant announced. “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”
Many of the residents that hastily evacuated their homes due to urgent demands from the Israeli army—received either through mobile phone notifications or direct calls—escaped to this very refugee camp. The lucky ones were sheltering inside the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools when the Jabalia strike hit.
The apparent lack of warning before the blast could indicate that Israel believed one of the houses may have harbored individuals associated with the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, who had taken part in recent operations against Israel.
Ubaida said Monday that Israel’s nightmare scenario of accidentally blowing up their own hostages during their extensive bombing campaign had come to pass. He claimed that four Israeli hostages were killed along with their captors.
The Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip announced, later Monday, that the death toll from the military operation against Gaza had risen to 560 dead and 2,900 wounded.
Salma Ibrahim, 22, thought she would be relatively safe living near the universities compound in Gaza City which is situated close to UNRWA HQ. She was wrong. “The Israeli army published a map that highlighted in red the risk areas for the Israeli army operations, and it marked the UNRWA compound as a red flag area that we have to leave,” she told The Daily Beast. “We are tired of leaving our home in each war. We have left to go to our uncle’s home in Gaza City, but we are still afraid it is not safe.
“Today the Israeli strikes are more intensified, and we are worried of more escalation in the coming days with food and fuel cut off in addition to the current water and internet cuts,” Ibrahim said.
Soon after Ibrahim left got out of the neighborhood, Israeli airstrikes began targeting the streets around the UNRWA compound. These caused huge damage to the UNSCO centre, which is a main supplier for humanitarian services for refugees in Gaza.