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A relative bursts into tears as mourners try to comfort him. They were gathered around the bodies of seven members of the Kelani family, killed overnight by an Israeli strike in Gaza City on July 22, 2014. / Lefteris Pitarakis, AP

GAZA CITY - As Israeli forces continued their offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, outrage among Palestinians caught in the crossfire grew with the mounting death toll.

The offensive has killed at least 583 Palestinians and injured 3,300 more, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. On Tuesday, about 70 targets including five mosques were hit, it said.

Israel's ground campaign, whose goal it says is to destroy a network of tunnels used to attack Israeli citizens, has ignited Palestinian support for Hamas, the political group Israeli forces have been targeting since July 8 in retaliation for ongoing rocket attacks against Israel. Israel estimated there have been more than 2,000 rocket attacks in the past two weeks.

Both Israel and the United States condemn Hamas as a terrorist group, but residents here see it very differently.

"We faced two Israeli wars before but this one is the ... bloodiest and most cruel," said Abu Awni, 38, of Gaza City. "Civilians are attacked in their homes. I'm against Hamas, but when Israel is killing my family, then I will join Hamas.

"The world must wake up and stop consuming Israeli propaganda," he added. "More than half of the population in Gaza is not affiliated with Hamas. But we have been collectively punished."

Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Quidra said the casualties were the same as a full-fledged war. "Bodies torn to pieces. Severe burns. We even found some chips of missiles in the bodies of victims," he said.

Israel has said it tries to avoid civilian casualties but blames Hamas for hiding rockets and launchers in civilian areas, a charge echoed recently by United Nations inspectors.

The Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza was among the targets shelled Monday, killing five patients and injuring dozens others. Panic erupted in the hospital as families attempted to evacuate patients, Al-Quidra said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group, confronted Israeli troops advancing on eastern Gaza, provoking fierce clashes. Israeli jets and tanks fired on numerous sites in the territory.

In central Gaza, Israeli bombardments targeted a mosque and a U.N.-run school in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp. Six members of a Palestinian civil defense squad came under fire while driving in the area. In separate attacks, a Palestinian paramedic and television news cameraman were also killed.

In Gaza City in the northern section of the territory, Israeli airstrikes hit the Al-Isra apartment tower, killing at least 12 people. In a mosque in southern Gaza, an Israeli drone fired a missile at a mosque, injuring six worshipers.

An estimated 3,000 homes throughout Gaza have been destroyed during air raids or tank shelling, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Tank shelling has become routine in Gaza since the start of the ground invasion three days ago. Around 85,000 people have fled the Shijaeyyah, Toffah and Shaaf neighborhoods on the east side of Gaza City. Ruined apartment blocks and piles of debris, including the dead, blocked the streets in the three districts.

"I lived here most of my life in my house here in Shijaeyyah," said Um Naser, a 63-year-old grandmother. "Seeing this huge destruction makes my heart bleed. What Israel is doing in Gaza is criminal. Why destroy our homes? Why kill our children? We, personally, were not firing rockets into Israel."

Refugees are now seeking shelter at 50 U.N.-run schools throughout Gaza. Many locals compare Gaza to an enormous open-air prison that's hemmed in by Israel, the Mediterranean Sea and Egyptian troops that have closed the Rafah border crossing for much of the past seven years. An estimated 2 million people live in Gaza, an area about twice as large as Washington, D.C.

Palestinians say they are becoming increasingly concerned that nobody will come to their aid. The lack of international condemnation has bolstered Hamas' reputation even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Western leaders stress that the militants bear responsibility for the bloodshed, they added.

"I cannot understand how Egypt mediates a cease-fire when it closes the Rafah crossing," said Gaza Strip resident Ibrahim Bulul, 28. "We are abandoned by the Arab countries. We are left alone to face Israel's war. But we are steadfast. You cannot expect us to blame Hamas while Israel is committing massacres."

Meetings in Cairo that include officials from the Palestinian Authority, Israel, the U.S. and Arab countries have yet to yield a permanent cease-fire, raising the specter of a humanitarian crisis as the military campaign drags on.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have electricity for around four hours a day. Water is becoming increasingly hard to acquire. Hospitals face imminent shortages in medicines and other supplies.

The pace of the attacks is overwhelming relief agencies.

International Committee of the Red Cross local spokesman Naser Al-Najjar said coordinating with Israel on a protocol for retrieving the dead has not been easy. It takes far too long to secure permission to send ambulances to areas after bombardments, the spokesman said. The Red Cross is acting as an intermediary between the two sides during the crisis.

"Our role is coordinating between the Israeli army and Palestinian Red Crescent Society, who then send ambulances and rescue teams," said Al-Najjar.

The constant wailing of ambulance sirens, Israeli drones buzzing overhead and the tank shelling has made sleep nearly impossible, residents say. The lack of sleep has given many an opportunity to focus on their rage.

"We know that Israel has no red line when it attacks us," said Abu Ali Khammash, a 40-year-old father of five children, referring to an Arabic expression meaning "boundaries not to cross."

"We know that it does not respect international law," he said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Gaza resident: We're being 'collectively punished'

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