Israeli attacks drive Palestinians from their home in Gaza
People loaded mattresses, suitcases and other belongings onto cars in Tel al-Hawa where is damaged by Israeli troops.
Residents of a Gaza neighbourhood devastated by Israeli assault fled to other parts of the enclave on Friday, showing little faith in prospects for ceasefire talks.
For some it recalled the refugee exodus of 1948, when Palestinians fled or were forced out of what became Israel. Many of them ended up in Gaza, where they and their families now form the majority of the population of 1.5 million.
People loaded mattresses, suitcases and other belongings onto cars in Tel al-Hawa, an affluent and once quiet district of the city of Gaza where buildings were damaged by Israeli troops on Thursday, the 20th day of Israel's offensive.
"We will never forget this night. We never imagined we'd emerge alive," said Abu Mahmoud, a 54-year-old father of five who refused to give his full name.
Abu Mahmoud said his family spent the night on a small rug in the building's staircase where they huddled up together to the sound of explosions and machinegun fire.
"We've never been so close to death," he said, adding that the ordeal brought to mind his parents' account of 1948.
In that year, Israel was established and much of the Arab population fled or were driven from their homes -- most Gazans are from families of those refugees from what is now Israel.
"It was a real second exodus," said Abu Mahmoud.
Employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated Abu Mahmoud and his family to a nearby hospital run by the Palestinian Red Crescent, which was later hit by Israeli fire. Flames rose from the upper floors until late at night.
Those Gazans who escaped the fighting in Tel al-Hawa returned to buildings disfigured by shells and bullets and streets littered with debris.
People chatted in the streets, happy to see their neighbours and friends alive.
Human Rights Watch called on Israel to stop firing heavy artillery shells at residential areas of the city of Gaza, saying the practice was in violation of international law.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Tal al-Hawa resident Abu Maher said soldiers searched every apartment in his building: "We were made to sit in one room for 13 hours with armed soldiers. Imagine the fear we felt as we heard ferocious fighting and explosions outside," he said.
Even if the fighting stopped, he said, he could not return to his apartment, which was damaged in the fighting and cut off from water and electricity.
Reuters Last Mod: 16 Ocak 2009, 18:17