For the first eight days of Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, many Palestinians trapped inside the territory believed that living conditions could not get any worse. They were wrong.
By Tim Butcher on the Israel-Gaza border Last Updated: 6:36PM GMT 04 Jan 2009
With Israeli infantry and tanks striking across the border and taking up positions to the north and south of Gaza City, life for the area's 1.5 million people has become even more dangerous and miserable.
All road travel is hazardous because Israeli spotters treat any vehicle as a potential threat. There were reports yesterday of an ambulance being hit as it did its rounds, with four crew members seriously injured. All United Nations aid workers have been told they need Israeli permission for any movement, rendering the delivery of aid considerably more difficult.
Engineers who are needed to patch up damaged electricity cables or water pumps are being forced to stay at home. Consequently, there is no immediate answer to power cuts and water shortages.
At least five civilians were killed by two large explosions in Palestine Square, a large open space in the centre of Gaza City normally full of shoppers and taxi drivers. Witnesses said the explosions came from two bombs dropped by Israeli warplanes, although there was no way to confirm this. Israel has barred the international media from reaching Gaza.
Reports suggest that a few shoppers from Gaza's nearby Old City ventured into the square when a trader started selling vegetables. Shops have closed in Gaza since the Israeli assault began on Dec 27 and families have grown desperate for fresh food.
The two explosions went off in the middle of group of people, killing five and injuring forty more.
Witnesses at Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, described seeing the wounded arriving for treatment with horrific injuries.
Some had limbs hanging off, while one man had lost part of his torso. So strong was the flow of blood from the wounded that the hospital's floors were smeared red.
A foreign doctor volunteering for the Red Crescent at Shifa described the conditions for patients as a "nightmare". Many have been horribly disfigured by flying shrapnel. "A lot of people are being cut down," said the doctor. "The situation is terrible. People are leaving their homes. Everyone is terrified."
A local reporter who reached the square shortly after the explosions described a scene of utter chaos. "Where is Nadia, my daughter, where is she?'' screamed one frantic shopper, before Nadia was found unharmed, hiding in a clothes shop.
News of the incident in Palestine Square spread quickly through Gaza, sending a clear message - no place was safe now that Israel's ground offensive had begun.
No sooner had the wounded in Palestine Square been helped than news came of another incident. Five civilians were killed in a mosque in the town of Beit Lahiya.
The normally bustling streets of Gaza City were largely empty last night and a power cut ensured the densely populated area was in darkness.
But gunmen from the different Palestinian factions, who have in the past fought fierce turf battles among themselves, patrolled some streets together.
They wore different headbands to show their allegiance: green for Hamas, black for Islamic Jihad and yellow for Fatah. Instead of dividing the Palestinians and isolating Hamas, Israel's operation may be uniting their opponents into a common front.