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Power goes out in Gaza, as Israel tightens siege and bombs the Palestinian territory

An Israeli army self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on Wednesday.
Jack Guez
AFP via Getty Images
An Israeli army self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on Wednesday.

Updated October 11, 2023 at 1:56 PM ET

TEL AVIV and SDEROT, Israel — Israel carried out heavy bombardments across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday for the fifth day as more than 2 million Palestinians lost electricity after Israel put the territory under full siege, following an infiltration by Hamas militants into Israel in one of the deadliest attacks ever on the country.

Witnesses have described widespread destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza City from Israeli strikes overnight, as residents shared videos online showing children pulled wounded or dead from under the rubble.

A girl cries as people leave their houses in Gaza City due to Israeli airstrikes for a fifth day on Wednesday.
/ Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images
Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images
A girl cries as people leave their houses in Gaza City due to Israeli airstrikes for a fifth day on Wednesday.

It all comes as Israel and Gaza experience one of the most dramatic escalations in violence in recent memory, with concerns the chaos could spread to the occupied West Bank and different countries in the Middle East.

This round of bloodshed began with a surprise attack by Palestinian fighters from Gaza into Israel during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. On Saturday, militants infiltrated Israel's border using paragliders, motorbikes and boats and fired thousands of rockets toward the country from Gaza.

Israeli officials say more than 1,200 people in Israel were killed in the assault and that the militants returned to Gaza with hostages. The number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli forces since the weekend has now surpassed 1,000, according to officials in Gaza, with more than half those killed women and children.

At least 22 U.S. citizens died in the fighting in Israel, the U.S. State Department said. President Biden confirmed Tuesday that Americans are among the hostages held by Hamas, but did not say how many.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who moderated a classified briefing for lawmakers Wednesday, said "dozens" of Americans were taken captive. He said the U.S. is working with Israeli officials to rescue them, suggesting that U.S. special forces and hostage rescue teams may be involved.

Other countries, such as France and the United Kingdom, have also reported citizens killed or missing in the conflict.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said 11 of its employees were killed in the Gaza Strip.

Even as Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza mourned their dead in funerals, Hamas militants in Gaza continued to fire rockets toward Israel, as Israeli forces continued to bomb the Gaza Strip. Israel's Iron Dome defense system blocks most rocket attacks, but air raid sirens have been heard as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as some rockets have broken through.

Gaza under full siege

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said earlier Wednesday that the territory would be plunged into "complete darkness" within the day. Hours later, Gaza's main power plant shut down. Israel has put Gaza under complete siege, barring the entry of fuel, food, water, medicine and more into the territory.

Tasneem Ahel, a dental student sheltering in her uncle's home after her house was destroyed in Gaza, said she had been wounded in a previous war with Israel. She said adults are rationing food so that the children sheltering in the home are not hungry.

"We don't have water. We don't have food. We don't have anything to live," Ahel said.

She said feels like she's facing death at any moment from Israeli warplanes.

"They steal my dreams and our dreams again," Ahel said.

The Biden administration said there are talks to create a safe corridor for civilians, echoing a call from the U.N. World Food Programme to create emergency humanitarian corridors. The Palestinian Health Ministry is also calling for the same to allow medication and medical teams in, as well as to allow those with complex wounds out of Gaza to seek emergency treatment elsewhere.

All of the Gaza Strip's borders are closed, leaving Palestinian civilians with nowhere to escape or seek safety. Around one-tenth of Gaza's population of about 2.3 million people is internally displaced. Many have sought shelter in U.N.-run schools.

Palestinian families search for safer areas after overnight Israeli shelling in Gaza City, Wednesday.
/ Bashar Taleb/IMAGO/APAimages via Reuters
Bashar Taleb/IMAGO/APAimages via Reuters
A group of men carries a covered body as Israeli strikes cause large numbers of casualties in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas militant group took control of the territory in 2007. Egypt was sending in some aid through its border with Gaza but has stopped these deliveries since Tuesday due to Israel's airstrikes of the Gaza side of the border crossing.

Israel buries its dead

Israelis held funerals for those killed in Saturday's attack, when militants from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Israel, attacking communities along the country's southern border.

Militants overran a police station and military positions. They gunned down revelers at a dance music festival near Israel's border with Gaza, killing more than 200 people. They raided gated communities and shot families dead, and Israeli officials estimate they took at least 100 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is expected to try to use the hostages in bargaining to free some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, but the group insists it will not negotiate while Gaza is under attack.

Hamas' military wing, Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, threatened to execute a civilian hostage every time civilians in Gaza die in their homes from Israeli airstrikes that come without warning. No such publicly known execution has yet been carried out.

Family and friends of May Naim, 24, who was murdered by Palestinians militants at the "Supernova" festival, near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, react during her funeral on Wednesday in Gan Haim, Israel.
Amir Levy / Getty Images
Getty Images
Family and friends of May Naim, 24, who was murdered by Palestinians militants at the Supernova music festival, near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, grieve during her funeral on Wednesday in Gan Haim, Israel.

Israel has called up more than 300,000 reservists to its border with Gaza in preparation for what appears to be planning for a ground invasion. Volunteers are rallying to support the troops, offering prayers, food and any other basics to the reservists.

The streets of Tel Aviv, usually bustling with stores, bars and tourists, are largely empty of traffic and pedestrians. Schools are closed across the country as the nation prepares for what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said will be "difficult days ahead." He said Israel is fighting to ensure its existence.

In southern Israeli towns and cities near the border with Gaza, many residents have been evacuated, but some have chosen to stay behind.

Gaza health and electricity crisis

In addition to the more than 1,000 Palestinians killed, over 5,000 people have been wounded by Israeli bombs since Saturday, officials in Gaza said. The Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday that it is rationing services due to the electricity crisis.

Doctors Without Borders' head of mission in the Palestinian territories, Léo Cans, said in a statement that hospitals are overwhelmed in Gaza. He said that among the complex cases that doctors are trying to treat was that of a 13-year-old boy whose body was almost completely burned after a fire broke out from a bomb that fell next his house.

"The declaration of war must not, under any circumstances, lead to collective punishment of the population of Gaza," Cans said, adding that not even ambulances and hospitals have been spared damage from the airstrikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross' spokesperson in Gaza, Hisham Mhanna, explained that water and sewage treatment plants also need electricity to function. "And we fear that hospitals may turn into graveyards if they are not fed with electricity," he told NPR, adding that there are also patients struggling to receive treatment for other ailments and needs.

"We're talking about sick children, chronic diseases patients, elderly people, pregnant women who may have no access to any medical supply or aid or service in the next few hours or days," Mhanna said.

U.S. affirms its support for Israel

The first shipment of U.S. weapons since the weekend's attack recently arrived in Israel, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to Israel to deliver a message of solidarity and support.

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. international aid since World War II, receiving a total of $158 billion to date, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The U.S. has also sent a naval vessel to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, saying its purpose is to deter any armed groups or countries seeking to escalate the situation or widen this war. Aboard are eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft, a guided missile cruiser and guided missile destroyers.

In an address from Washington, President Biden called Hamas' attack on Israel "pure unadulterated evil" and promised to "make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of itself."

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said some Americans are among those held hostage by Hamas but called it "a very small number of Americans that we know of."

The relatives of U.S.-Israeli citizens who've gone missing and may be held hostage told reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that so far no one from the U.S. or Israeli governments had yet reached out to them with any information about their relatives.

The father of a missing Israeli soldier, who also holds U.S. citizenship, asked in the news conference if any U.S. Embassy officials were in the room. No one responded.

Aya Batrawy reported from Tel Aviv and Daniel Estrin from Sderot. Anas Baba contributed reporting from Gaza City. Susan Davis contributed from Washington, D.C. Larry Kaplow and Kevin Drew also contributed to the story.

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Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.