gazans mourn after an attack that officials say killed dozens

The Gazan Health Ministry blamed Israeli airstrikes for the deaths as Israel’s military said it was reviewing the episode.

A crowded neighborhood in central Gaza where many Palestinians fleeing the fighting had taken shelter was mourning a new trauma on Monday after Gaza health officials said an overnight attack had killed dozens of people there.

Photos of the aftermath on Monday showed a gray concrete building gaping with dark holes where rooms used to be. At the foot of the building was a mound of debris, where men appeared to be digging for survivors, or bodies.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 70 people had died in Sunday’s attacks on the neighborhood, Al Maghazi. But the ongoing difficulty of reaching residents in Gaza, where electricity shortages and communications blackouts have frequently obscured the picture of the war’s fallout, meant the details were blurry.

Ministry officials blamed Israeli airstrikes for the deaths. Israel’s military said Monday it was reviewing the episode.

The attack underscored the risk to civilians as fighting intensifies. Israeli forces are pushing deeper into central Gaza while also continuing to battle Hamas fighters in the enclave’s north and south. Many places in central and southern Gaza are crowded with people who have fled their homes.

“These rockets, it’s like they’re made to destroy mountains, not people,” said Mohamed Abu Shaah, who had taken shelter at an acquaintance’s house in Al Maghazi with his wife and seven daughters. In Al Maghazi, he said, the influx of the newly displaced meant that 20 people were routinely crowding into a single room to sleep at night.

It was the fifth time his own family had packed up and rushed to a new place after fighting and airstrikes threatened the place they had taken shelter.

“We are doing everything we can just to run for our lives,” he said.

The rising death toll in Gaza, which health ministry officials have said stands at about 20,000 people prompted Pope Francis on Monday to focus his Christmas address in part on the plight of Palestinians, as well as on Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

He mentioned Bethlehem, the holy city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where officials have largely canceled Christmas festivities in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, and pleaded for peace to “come in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where war is devastating the lives of those peoples.”

The pope also called for “an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims,” and “for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid.”

Gaza is controlled by Hamas, the armed group that led the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

Mr. Abu Shaah said he had just returned from prayer late Sunday night and was about to put his daughters to sleep in the bed that nine of them shared when they heard a loud thud. Afraid they would find themselves under the rubble, they ran downstairs to a scene of devastation.

“We’ve seen a lot, but this is beyond anything we could have imagined,” he said. “Today my family and I are alive, but what about tomorrow?”

Before the war, about 33,000 Palestinians lived in Al Maghazi, an area covering only about a quarter of a square mile, according to the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians. Most families in the neighborhood were originally from villages in the center and south of what was Palestine before they fled or were forcibly displaced in the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s establishment as a state.

The neighborhood has been hit multiple times before, according to U.N. reports.

Save the Children, an aid group, called the strike on Al Maghazi “another episode of the ongoing horror” in Gaza.

“Families and children are not targets and must be protected,” it said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We need an immediate and definitive cease-fire to end this misery.”

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