Paramedics said they would need bulldozers, which they don’t have, to pull more people from buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes amid power cuts.
When Israeli airstrikes began pounding the Karama neighborhood in Gaza City on Tuesday night, the paramedic Amir Ahmed and his ambulance crew raced through streets lined with destroyed buildings and headed toward where black plumes of smoke were billowing above the rooftops.
But as they got near, the explosions continued relentlessly and they couldn’t get any closer, he said. Crowds of frantic people, some barefoot, rushed toward them, fleeing their just-destroyed homes. The ground shook with each strike from an Israeli fighter jet.
“People were crying for the children they had to leave behind under the rubble,” Mr. Ahmed, 32, said. “They were begging us to go in and pull their children from the rubble — this was all they wanted, for us to go and pull their children out.”
Israel launched a wave of airstrikes on Gaza after gunmen from Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, crossed the border on Saturday, massacred Israeli soldiers and civilians in their homes, and fired thousands of rockets toward Israeli towns and cities.
Israeli official have defended the airstrikes — an intense bombardment that has hit hospitals, schools and mosques — saying that Hamas uses civilian buildings for military purposes.
But the strikes have spared no one, and for the emergency workers with the Palestinian Red Crescent, they have turned Gaza into a “nightmare,” Mr. Ahmed said.
Rescuers, emergency workers and doctors are struggling to reach and save people buried under the rubble from the Israeli airstrikes, with power now cut, fuel supplies close to running out and the onslaught from the air making movement dangerous.
By the time they reach many of the destroyed buildings, Mr. Ahmed said, they find only bodies. “Sometimes we don’t pull out anyone alive,” he said. “We pull them all out dead.”
On Wednesday afternoon, electricity in the blockaded Gaza Strip went out after the only power station there shut down, a result of Israel’s ordering a “complete siege” on Gaza and blocking all electricity, food, water and fuel from entering the coastal enclave.
The Gazan authorities have been warning that without power or fuel, the strip’s hospitals and emergency services will not be able to function. Al-Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest medical complex, has enough fuel to power its backup generators for another four days at most, its director said on Wednesday.
“If electricity stops, our hospitals will become nothing but mass graves,” the director, Dr. Muhammad Abu Salima, said. The hospital has limited its electricity consumption to essential services only, he said.
At least 1,127 Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,300 others injured in Gaza since Saturday, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. It was not clear how many of the casualties included the Palestinian attackers who carried out Saturday’s assault.
Electricity in Gaza had already been available only a few hours a day before the power station shutdown, and once the sun set, the enclave was mostly plunged into darkness as airstrikes continued.
Overnight Tuesday, rescue workers in several neighborhoods struggled to dig people out of the rubble of fallen concrete blocks and twisted metal, their efforts lit by headlights, flashlights and cellphones, according to video from the scene. Residents in flip-flops used blankets to help pull and carry their neighbors’ bodies out of the destroyed buildings.
Naseem Hassan, 47, who has been an ambulance driver in Gaza for 25 years, said he had never experienced anything like this war.
“When we go to the places that are hit, we only take the injured and dead who are outside the buildings, but we can’t dig out the injured and bodies from under the rubble,” he said. “We need bulldozers and heavy equipment, and we don’t have that.”
There are many demolished homes across Gaza with bodies underneath that can’t be recovered, he said.
Gaza, a small, densely populated enclave that is home to more than two million people, had already been living under a severe blockade imposed by Israel for 16 years.
The Gazan authorities have long said that the blockade, which is also enforced by Egypt, has prevented equipment such as fire trucks, ambulances and ladders from entering the territory, hampering rescue efforts.
Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned violence by Palestinian armed groups on Tuesday but warned that the siege being imposed by Israel was prohibited under international humanitarian law and would exacerbate the “already dire” humanitarian situation there.
Several times, Mr. Ahmed and other ambulance crews tried to approach areas that had been attacked, only for more airstrikes to force them back. One strike hit 15 feet in front of their ambulance, he said, but they were uninjured.
But on Wednesday, four of his colleagues were killed in airstrikes on their ambulances, according to the Red Crescent.
“There is no differentiation between targets,” he said. “The paramedics themselves are targeted.”
The United Nations said that since Saturday, nine ambulances had been hit in Gaza and 13 attacks on health care facilities had been reported. Gaza’s Health Ministry accused Israel of systematically targeting ambulances.
An Israeli military spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the military was targeting ambulances.
The Israeli military has said its strikes are targeting all sites connected with Hamas, including the homes of members.
“A huge number of people are trapped under the rubble until this moment; for two days they have been under the rubble,” said Mahmoud Basal, a spokesman for the Palestinian Civil Defense in Gaza, which administers emergency service. “The rescue workers can’t reach them because of a lack of equipment.”
Rescuers also said they could not keep up with the pace of the airstrikes and their destruction. Unlike in past wars, when Israeli airstrikes have targeted single buildings, entire blocks are now being flattened, they said.
Israeli military commanders have said there is a “change of paradigm” in their airstrikes on Gaza.
“We need to use different language and different terminology regarding our assault activities in Gaza,” Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a briefing on Tuesday. “This is not like previous rounds.”
The Israeli military warned Gazans to leave areas — in some cases entire districts or towns — it was targeting.
But Gazans have nowhere to go; the strip has no bomb shelters, and those who have gone to the homes of relatives in other areas often found that they, too, were fleeing. More than 260,000 people have been displaced inside the territory, with many of them sheltering in schools and hospitals.
Even those have not been spared from the strikes.
“Entire square miles are being erased from the map completely,” Mr. Basal said.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel; Hiba Yazbek from Nazareth, Israel; and Iyad Abuheweila from Cairo.