Dozens were killed and many more injured in a blast at the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip late Saturday, according to an official at a nearby hospital and eyewitnesses who spoke with CNN.
The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza said 47 people were killed. The director of communications at the Al-Aqsa hospital, Mohammad al Hajj, told CNN the explosion was the result of an Israeli airstrike.
Later Sunday, the hospital’s director, Dr Eyad Abu Zaher, said 52 people had been killed, differing from the health ministry’s figure.
“One of the houses in the camp was struck. This house was crowded with residents. Its residents were bombed while they were safe in their homes,” added head of nursing Dr. Khalil Al-Daqran.
The Israeli military did not have an immediate comment as to whether it was targeting the area. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says it is looking into the circumstances around the explosion.
One resident of the camp told CNN: “We were sitting in our homes, suddenly we heard a very, very powerful sound of an explosion. It shook the whole area, all of it.”
Video taken at the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Hospital showed multiple bodies laid out under white tarpaulins, including small figures believed to be children, and more bodies were still coming in from the Al-Maghazi refugee camp, said Dr. Al-Daqran.
He said the hospital was not equipped to accept the high number of patients, and the shortage of fuel and supplies made it impossible to adequately treat the wounded.
“The number of people inside the hospital who need treatment is more than double the number of beds in the hospital,” he told CNN.
The IDF has been pounding Gaza for four weeks with the stated aim of annihilating Hamas, whose fighters breached the Israeli border October 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostage.
Israel has repeatedly urged civilians to move south of Wadi Gaza as it has intensified its air and ground assaults across the strip.
At least 9,472 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to figures released Sunday by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah that are drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
‘The whole building fell on us’
Journalist Muhammed Alaloul told CNN on Sunday the explosion killed four of his children and three of his siblings.
Alaloul, a freelance photojournalist with the Turkish news agency Anadolu, said his home was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike that targeted the Al-Maghazi refugee camp.
Hospital officials in Gaza have also attributed the explosion to an Israeli airstrike.
The Israel Defense Forces told CNN it is looking into the circumstances of the blast.
Video from the scene shows extensive destruction, with many buildings damaged or destroyed.
“I saw my son Kenan, my daughter Rahaf, I saw Ahmad my son … and Qais, my son. I saw my three siblings martyred; I saw friends who were at my house martyred,” Alaloul said.
On returning to where his home once stood, Alaloul recounted: “My house was completely destroyed. … It was full of children, and now, there are still people trapped in the debris in the area that we can’t reach.”
He said his wife, mother, father and another child were injured. His wife was critically wounded and was admitted to the intensive care unit.
The Al-Maghazi refugee camp is located in the central part of the coastal enclave south of Wadi Gaza, the waterway that divides north from south Gaza.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the camp is filled with narrow alleys, where 33,000 people lived before the conflict, in a relatively densely packed area no more than 0.6 square kilometers.
Jamal Al Aloul, a resident of Al-Maghazi, said he was sleeping soundly when suddenly “the whole building fell on us.”
He said his two children were killed in the collapse but he did not know who else had been killed because so many people lived in the building.
Another camp resident, Samah Shaqoura, told CNN her family was sitting in the living room, laughing and talking together when their home was struck.
“I saw a red light, then we were shaking on the sofa, I saw all my sisters screaming. … When I found myself alive, I looked to see who is still alive,” she said.
She said moments later she found her father dead.
Her mother, Sundos Shaqura, said the whole house collapsed suddenly on them, as they shared some tea after their evening prayer.
The unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza has prompted global criticism of Israel, with even some of its closest allies calling for a break in the fighting – either a humanitarian pause or ceasefire – to allow aid to reach civilians.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with key Middle Eastern leaders at a summit in Jordan on Saturday, when he again rejected calls for a ceasefire and reiterated US support for “humanitarian pauses.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government opposes any temporary ceasefire in Gaza unless Hamas frees all the hostages it took during the militant group’s rampage October 7. Netanyahu said Israel would continue to block fuel from entering the enclave.
Despite Israel’s opposition, Blinken reiterated his calls during an unannounced visit to Iraq on Sunday, saying he had “no doubt” that “everyone would welcome humanitarian pauses” in Gaza.
Speaking to the media after his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Baghdad, Blinken said negotiations on a pause are a “process,” but that US and Israeli teams were meeting Sunday to “work through the specifics, the practicalities of these pauses.”
“Israel has raised important questions about how humanitarian pauses would work. We’ve got to answer those questions. We’re working on exactly that,” he said.