When Amal al-Akam fled her home in northern Gaza, she had time only to grab her children and throw on a prayer shawl.
But some in her family could not get out in time.
“The Israelis bombed the house over the heads of my father-in-law and his wife and their children,” said the 48-year-old homeopathic clinician. “My husband and his brothers couldn’t get them out.”
As Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, the territory’s rescue crews are struggling to save the wounded and recover the bodies. Their work is both difficult and dangerous.
Some 1,200 people remain trapped under the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings, including 500 children, the Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, a figure it said it based on reports from families about missing loved ones. At least 2,750 Palestinians have died since the strikes began, the ministry said, with more than 9,700 wounded.
Rescue operations were too dangerous to carry out on Monday night, said Amir Ahmed, a 32-year-old paramedic with the Palestinian Red Crescent. “Because anyone who moved at night would be bombed by the planes,” he said.
Six civil defense workers were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza City overnight on Sunday into Monday, according to Gaza’s Interior and National Security Ministry.
Gaza’s first responders also lack enough resources and heavy machinery to dig people out from under the rubble, the result both of a 16-year blockade on goods and equipment imposed by Israel and Egypt. Last week, Israel imposed a complete siege of Gaza, blocking off all supplies of fuel and electricity, further complicating the work of rescuers in Gaza.
The Israeli military says it is striking targets connected to Hamas, which controls the territory and which, it says, embeds its operations within the civilian population. But Gazans say the strikes appear indiscriminate and come without warning, plummeting roofs over the heads of entire families in one strike.
After the bombing that destroyed their home in the early days of this war, Ms. al-Akam’s family fled to the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, along with thousands of other people trying to escape the bombing. On Friday, they were living in a tent they had built on the sidewalk. And by Tuesday they were still waiting for some news about the rest of the family.
“We asked the Red Crescent to get their bodies out but no one has been able to reach them,” she said. “No one has been able to reach that area.”
“God willing, they will be able to get them out,” she said, speaking outside a United Nations training center in Khan Younis.
She worries that if they do get back to the rubble of their home, the bodies of their loved ones may be decomposed and difficult to give them a proper burial.
But there are no more proper burials in Gaza.
This week the Gazan authorities buried dozens of unidentified bodies in a grave on a plot of land inside Gaza City because the cemeteries are too dangerous to get to, said Salama Maarouf, the head of Gaza’s government media office.
Amid overwhelmed rescue crews, some families have gone back to their destroyed homes and tried to dig out their loved ones by themselves. Then they call the ambulance crews or Red Crescent to come take the bodies to the morgue, said Mr. Ahmed, the paramedic.
“The situation in Gaza is a disaster in the truest sense of the word: massacres everywhere,” he said, adding that the streets reek of death.
Hiba Yazbek and Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.