The young victims of war in Gaza City

Last updated 10:51 29/07/2014
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GRAPHIC CONTENT: These photos are hard enough to bear, but they only hint at what life is like in Gaza right now.

With a loud explosion, nine children died as they played in a Gaza Strip street.

Another blast hit the grounds of Shifa Hospital, the most sophisticated medical facility in Gaza.

These tragedies are just everyday life in Gaza today.

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Hamas and Israel blame each other for the explosion at a Gaza park. It killed at least 10 Palestinians - including nine children playing on a swing - in a horrific scene that underscores the heavy price civilians are paying in the conflict.

Israel's military said a rocket misfired by Gaza militants was responsible, and it later released aerial photos that it said showed the weapon's path. Gaza officials blamed Israeli airstrikes.

The blast took place on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Afterward, dozens of Palestinians crowded the spot at the park in the Shati refugee camp northwest of Gaza City, where pools of blood could be seen on the ground. Some cried out, pleading for God's mercy.

Witnesses said the youngsters had been playing on a swing set.

"The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands," Nidal Aljerbi, a witness, told The Associated Press.

Another man stood beside a pool of blood and cried: "We don't want an agreement. We don't want a ceasefire. All of us, children, women, will give our souls for God."

Sixteen members of the Zani clan were squeezed into a single classroom with several other families. They had fled their homes in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops were conducting intensive searches for Palestinian militants' "attack" tunnels, meant to funnel assailants into Israel, and rocket-launching sites.

Fear was a familiar feeling for many at the centre.

"Today we woke up at 6am, not because the kids were playing, but because we heard shelling," said a young mother, Amani. Her children, she said, asked why Eid was not being celebrated as usual with sweets, big meals and new clothing.

"I told them Eid had been postponed because there were a lot of martyrs," she said. "A lot of people here have lost family members - we can't celebrate when they are grieving."

In a hectic scene, Palestinians shed tears outside the doors of the morgue at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, and relatives crammed into the hall. The bodies of three children lay on shelves in the mortuary, their clothes heavily bloodstained, their flesh torn by shrapnel.

The strikes occurred on a day of heavy fighting after a temporary humanitarian cease-fire. At the same time, international efforts to end the three-week war intensified.

The streets near the park were strewn with shattered glass from homes and shops, and the ground was marked with the bloody footprints of those who helped carry the bodies to ambulances.

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Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, denied Israel was involved. "This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short," he said.

Early on Tuesday, the military released aerial photographs that it said showed the paths of two misfired rockets that hit the Shifa Hospital and the park. It said the paths were detected by Israeli military radar and sensors.

Lerner said that since the start of the fighting, Israel has identified about 200 failed rocket launches that struck within the Gaza Strip.

In a text message, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the killings would be avenged.

"The massacre against the children in Shati refugee camp is a war crime," Zuhri said. "Such a crime is a result of the silence of the international community. This crime will not break our will, and the occupation will pay the price."

The United Nations on Monday called for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting that has killed at least 1085 Palestinians, 52 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side.

The United Nations says civilians make up more than three-fourths of the dead and a majority of the wounded. Children account for at least 30 per cent of the casualties, according to UNICEF, the UN children's agency.

In another tragic episode involving children, four Palestinian boys, cousins ages 9 to 11, were killed on July 16 on a beach west of Gaza City by shellfire from a navy ship. Israel later apologised for the deaths.

Israel blames the civilian deaths on Hamas, accusing it of firing from residential neighbourhoods and using civilians as human shields.

The Israeli military says it is doing its utmost to spare civilians, including issuing evacuation warnings to homes and neighbourhoods that are about to be hit in Israel's air and ground operation.

Gaza is densely populated, with 1.7 million people squeezed into a small strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea, leaving little room for escape.

Over the course of the war, there have been similar instances in which each side blamed the other for strikes that have had horrific results.

On the Israeli side, strained relations with the White House appeared to be affecting cease-fire talks and the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a phone call with the Israeli leader on Sunday, President Obama reportedly used unusually blunt language to urge an immediate cessation of hostilities.

The tenor of that conversation, together with a growing international outcry over Palestinian civilian casualties, brought an angry reaction from some in Israel.

"The last time we listened to the US and allowed Hamas to participate in elections, Hamas took over the entire Gaza Strip and we got a terror entity there," lawmaker Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Knesset's foreign affairs and defense committee, told the news website Ynet.

Netanyahu also had a tense-sounding exchange by phone on Monday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has played an active role in mediation efforts. The prime minister's office said Netanyahu told the secretary-general that the UN  ceasefire call takes into account "the needs of a murderous terror organisation that attacks Israeli civilians, but offers no answers to Israel's security needs".

- AP

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