Internet and phone services gradually return to Gaza after being wiped out by heavy bombardment

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By georgeskef

KHAN YOUNIS (Gaza Strip) (AP). Two days after cellular service and internet disappeared for the majority of Gaza during a intense Israeli bombardment, the crowded enclave returned online on Sunday, as communications systems gradually restored.

This is a positive development for Gaza after a blackout of communications that began Friday night as Israel intensified its ground operations and launched airstrikes which lit up the night sky in furious orange flashes. Few Palestinians who had international SIM cards and satellite phones were able to spread the word.

According to the telecommunications companies in the region, the Internet-access advocacy group, and confirmed on the ground, many Gazans had regained their phone and internet communication by Sunday morning.

After weeks of an Israeli total siege on Gaza, the Palestinians felt the grip tightening. The social media was a lifeline to Palestinians who were desperate to receive news and share their harrowing plight. Even that was now gone. As the Israeli military announced a new stage of its war in response to an indiscriminate cross-border Hamas attack, and troops crossed into Gaza, many were filled with fear and hopelessness.

Hind al-Khoudary, a 28-year-old Palestinian Journalist who lives in Gaza, said that the airstrikes were so powerful and intense she was afraid they could cut her off from the rest of the world at any time. She also said it was more than anything else she has experienced during the last three weeks or the previous four wars between Israel and Hamas.

She said, “It was insane.”

Residents scurried across the streets of dilapidated areas that were heavily bombarded to check on their loved ones. Because they could not receive distress calls, medics chased artillery and explosions. The survivors pulled the dead out of the rubble using their bare hands, and then loaded them in cars and donkey carts.

Anas al Sharif, a journalist freelancer, said: “It is a disaster.” “Entire families are still under the rubble.”

Ashraf Ab Amra, a freelance photojournalist in Gaza’s northern region, was reached by WhatsApp and said that panic and confusion were surrounding him.

He said, “It is almost impossible to convey this message.” “All I am trying to say is that the international communities must act immediately and save Gazans from death.”

Local journalists posted daily on social media to scour the 360-square kilometer (140 square mile) area for even a spotty internet connection. Those who wanted to connect to Egypt’s network moved closer to its southern border. Some had special routers and foreign SIM cards that connected them to Israel’s network.

Mohammed Abdel Rahman is a Gaza journalist who tracked Israeli airstrikes throughout the night. He noticed that the raids were concentrated near the northern border of the Gaza Strip with Israel.

He said that a new bombing was happening as he spoke, while explosions resounded behind him. “There’s an explosion, gunfire and clashes near the border.”

Abdel Rahman said, “We don’t know if (there are) dead or wounded due to the lack of communication.”

Residents rushed home to their loved ones when the bombardment stopped Saturday morning.

Al-Khoudary stated that “people are right now walking or using their car because there is no internet.” “Everyone’s checking on us and seeing us. Now we will check on others.”

She then went to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the largest hospital, where the doctors were exhausted after operating patient after patient, with limited medical and fuel supplies. They pressed on despite the crowds sheltering within the compound of 50,000 people.

Al-Khoudary reported that the wounded were rushing in from Gaza City’s Shati Refugee Camp, where Israeli bombs had caused destruction the previous night.

The U.N. and health authorities in Gaza have warned that the blackout exacerbates Gaza’s humanitarian situation.

Gaza’s Hamas Health Ministry claimed that the communications outages paralyzed a health system already overwhelmed. Ashraf Al-Qidra, the ministry’s spokesperson, spoke to reporters during a live press conference broadcast by Al Jazeera from the hospital. An older man with bespectacles positioned himself behind the podium.

Al-Qidra was speaking when the man pointed upwards with his hands and waved at the camera. He appeared to be trying to assure someone who was far away that he still lived.

Nearly 24 hours after the blackout, international aid organizations, who have limited operations in the enclave, were unable to reach their staff.

Philippe Lazzarini is the chief of UN Palestinian Refugee Agency. He wrote a letter in public to his staff members in Gaza, expressing “immense concern” about their safety.

He wrote: “I hope that this hell will end soon and that your family and you are safe.” “You are the face and voice of humanity in one of its darkest moments.”

Doctors Without Borders reported that the group has not been in contact with its team in Gaza, since Friday evening at 8 p.m.

Guillemette Thoms, the regional coordinator of medical services, told reporters in Paris that “we are unable to send our team into different facilities, because we do not have a way to coordinate.” “That is a very critical situation.”