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Published: Sunday July 20, 2014 MYT 9:15:02 PM
Updated: Sunday July 20, 2014 MYT 9:16:39 PM

Heavy shelling brings death to Gaza district, triggers exodus

SHEJAIA Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Thousands of terrified Palestinians fled through the streets of Gaza City on Sunday, escaping Israeli shells that had rained horror and death onto their tree-lined suburb.

Tearful mothers clutched babies in blankets, little boys walked barefoot, weary fathers carried toddlers in their arms.

Some families rode on the back of donkey carts and piled into cars. Seven people sat in the gaping digger of a giant bulldozer, slowly driving clear of the smoke and bloodshed.

The mangled bodies of men, women and children filled the morgue at Gaza's main hospital, with other corpses reported to be still trapped under rubble in the Shejaia district, on the northeastern fringes of the Mediterranean enclave.

"They killed our people," said Ahmed Mansour, 27, lying on his stomach as his back and arm trickled blood, staining the hospital stretcher. "They even shelled people as they fled their houses. What kind of human beings could do that?"

Medics said more than 60 people had died in the assault, which came on the 13th day of an Israeli offensive aimed at halting salvos of rockets fired incessantly at southern and central Israel by Palestinian militants.

"Do you see what Israel does to us? Do you see how the strongest powers in the world allow it to attack civilians indiscriminately and now we're left with nothing," said Amer al-Segali, a father of 10, clasping his young son's hand.

"They think they're above the law, allowed to do whatever they want," he said, walking towards central Gaza, hoping to find peace and refuge elsewhere.

The Israeli military said it had urged all the residents of Shejaia to quit the area two days ago, accusing Hamas militants of firing 140 rockets from the area since July 8 and of using civilians as human shields.

Shaky video given to Reuters by a local resident showed crumpled bodies, including those of three children, lying scattered across a street, apparently felled by the Israeli shell fire, legs and arms bent back on each other.

TRAUMA WARD

Black smoke rose into the air, a menacing backdrop to the exodus from Shejaia.

"The night was so difficult, shelling all the time, every minute. We finally realised there was nothing to do but flee," said Sameh Hamada, 40, walking with his wife and children, carrying nothing.

His wife, wiping away tears, interjected: "There were bodies and limbs on the street!"

A group of young men paused their march to sit on a street corner when an artillery round crashed into a building two blocks away, sending them scattering.

Photographs from Shejaia showed mounds of debris on the side of the road, with building facades shredded and windows blown out by the force of the blasts.

Israel says it only targets militants and has made calls and broadcast warnings to almost half Gaza's 1.8 million people urging them to evacuate various neighbourhoods.

Hamas has told residents to stay put and many locals say they have nowhere to go to. The enclave's borders with both Israel and Egypt are sealed off, meaning that people can only move around within the narrow confines of Gaza.

Gaza's Shifa hospital, already crammed after 13 days of violence, struggled to cope with the new influx of dead and wounded. The corpses of two women lay scorched on the ground, along with two headless children and another cut in half.

A fleet of ambulances and cars brought in the victims, including the body of a journalist wearing a blue armoured vest, with the word 'press' writ large. A dead paramedic in distinctive, bright green garments was also stretchered in.

Inside the trauma ward, there was no place for doctors to put all the wounded.

"We can't help. These wounded are dying... We are trying to operate on them, but whatever we do, they still die," one doctor said, declining to give his name.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Rosalind Russell)

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