'For the children, it is like living in hell'

As explosions echoed in the distance and Israeli aircraft roared overhead, many residents in Gaza City were hunkered down in their houses yesterday, praying the bombs would spare them and worrying about how to feed their families and keep them warm should they survive.

"We still don't dare go outside. Nowhere feels safe," Faysal Shawa, a construction engineer, said by telephone from the house where he lives with his wife and three children. "Gaza is so small that when the Israelis bomb us it feels like they are bombing our own houses. There is a government building about 100 metres from where I live and it has been hit a number of times. My children are completely terrified.

"People in Gaza are used to dealing with hardship, but this time the bombings are absolutely terrifying, and what makes this attack worse is that for the past 18 months we have been living with little electricity, water and food. For the children it is like living in hell.

"This has to stop and it must stop now. Both sides are making the same mistakes again and again and it is the Palestinian people that suffer," Mr Shawa said. At that point, an explosion was heard close to the house and the engineer said he had to end the call to take his children to the cellar.

Gazan hospitals were running out of medical supplies to treat the wounded, and residents who had escaped unscathed were running out of basic foods and fuel.

"It is completely impossible to get any commodities now," said Sameh Habeeb, 23, an aid worker. "There is little electricity, all the bakeries and shops are shut and you cannot get any cooking gas. It's getting cold at night which means those families that don't have any gas will just have to use blankets to keep warm."

Like many Gazans, Sameh Habeeb was adamant that far from diminishing Hamas as a fighting force, the Israeli attack that dealt Palestinians one of their bloodiest days, would simply bolster support for the group among ordinary Palestinians.

"The Israelis seem to have widened their targets. They are clearly trying to destroy Hamas's entire infrastructure but my guess is that Hamas will just wait for the bombing to be over. This will not weaken them."