GAZA CITY -- A restless night punctuated by more than 250 Israeli airstrikes substantially darkened the mood and spirits of many Gazans on Friday as the conflict here entered its third day.
For the family of engineering student Amir Osama Maqousy, 18, the turning point came about 6:30 a.m., when the windows of his Gaza City house were blown in by a blast next door. Israeli airstrikes hit a squad of militants who were launching rockets into Israel, he said.
Less than three hours later, Maqousy, his four siblings, their mother, aunt and grandmother were waiting anxiously by their car at the Rafah border crossings with their suitcases. They plan to stay in Cairo until the situation in Gaza settles down.
“This is my country and I had no intention of leaving, but we have children in the house, so after this morning, there was no choice,’’ he said. “We can’t live in there anymore.”
Dozens of other Gazans waited to exit the territory Friday morning, but there did not appear to be a mass exodus. Most families can’t afford to leave or have no place to stay outside of Gaza, even though Egypt has promised to keep the border crossing open.
The Israeli airstrikes overnight – the heaviest in four years – left many Gazans with a growing sense of dread.
Israel said it targeted mostly rocket-launching sites and weapons depots. But much of the bombardment appeared to be designed to frighten the public, residents said, hitting empty lots, vacant buildings or structures that had been previously destroyed.
“It was designed to terrorize us, and it worked,’’ said construction worker Riad Abu Lanzain, 38, as he layered fresh cement over his door stoop, which was damaged by shrapnel from an airstrike early Friday. The missile hit an empty lot across the street in his residential neighborhood, leaving a gaping hole in the sand and blowing out windows in most of the adjacent apartment buildings.
Though no one was hurt, half a dozen families scurried into a ground-level room and stayed there the rest of the night.
“For the sake of the children, we just want all of this to stop,’’ said the father of five.
Not far away, a half-collapsed Interior Ministry building – responsible for issuing passports and hosting international delegations – was still smoldering as onlookers climbed through a debris pile of crushed desks, ceiling panels and laminated government ID cards.
“There are no rocket launchers here,’’ said Ibek Rabai, a distraught ministry manager, standing in front of the wreckage. “It’s surrounded by schools.”
In Israel, more than 1 million residents in the south remained close to bomb shelters. After on overnight drop in rocket attacks, militants fired an additional 67 rockets by noon Friday. At least three people were injured and damage was reported to several homes.
For the second day in a row, militants targeted Tel Aviv with two rockets, but neither caused injury or damage.
On Thursday, three Israelis died when a rocket struck their apartment building.
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