Palestinian rescue worker Ibrahim Hamdan has been tirelessly on duty since Saturday, navigating the perilous Israeli airstrikes that have unfortunately claimed the lives of paramedics. Despite the risks, his team is committed to rescuing survivors from the rubble of homes demolished by the relentless onslaught in the small enclave.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began on Saturday soon after the armed wing of the militant group Hamas governing the enclave smashed through barriers to Israeli settler towns, killing 1,200 people, Israel’s military says.
The bombardment is the most intense Israel has ever directed at Gaza, which is only 40km (25 miles) long and home to 2.3 million people living in cramped cities and refugee camps with few designated shelters and nowhere else to run.
Roads cratered from direct hits or blocked by rubble from nearby strikes hinder progress and initial rescue work is often done by neighbors pulling away chunks of debris in search of survivors or hoping to retrieve bodies for burial.
Lacking enough heavy machinery such as mechanical diggers and bulldozers, rescue workers also rely on shovels and other tools they wield by hand to pull away rubble.
The emotional toll has been intense.
Hamdan, 39, has a bandage on his left hand and wrist, injured by falling debris during a rescue attempt on Wednesday when he was only able to pull out the bodies of two girls, dead in the ruins of their home in the south Gaza city of Khan Younis, where he is based with his team of 12 other government rescue workers.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about my own four daughters,” he said, adding that all that keeps him going is the hope of finding more survivors.
On Wednesday, four Palestine Red Crescent emergency medical workers were killed when their ambulances were hit in two different incidents. Their colleagues clung to each other afterwards, shaking with sobs, video posted by Palestine Red Crescent showed.
Two of Hamdan’s own team were injured by flying glass when an air strike blew the windows out of their ambulance in Khan Younis on Saturday, he said. Neither is badly hurt.
Ashraf Al-Qidra, the spokesman of the Gaza health ministry said 10 medical staffers had been killed so far and 14 health facilities damaged, including the lone hospital in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.
Israel’s armed forces did not immediately respond to requests for comment about strikes injuring rescuers and medics.