By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 7, 2006; A14
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip, July 6 -- Throughout the day, the Atatara neighborhood of this northern Gaza city provided simultaneous views of the size and strength of Israel's military and of the guerrilla strategy being employed by Hamas gunmen to batter the armored force at their doorstep.
Behind white walls alive with militants' graffiti, lemons, olives and grapes grow here in large patches. Palms and cypress also spring up from otherwise empty lots, many of them close to homes.
The neighborhood's narrow streets, some of them only sand and dirt, are lined by two- and three-story concrete houses. Many remained shuttered, although some families gathered on rooftops to watch the fighting less than a quarter-mile away. Rifle shots sounded from some of the roofs.
Imad Sultan, 33, a physician, worked his mobile phone in an attempt to turn his courtyard into a first-aid station. Ambulances were being turned away from the focus of the fighting, roughly two blocks from Sultan's house. He ordered up gauze, bandages and other supplies from the nearest hospital.
"Most everyone has left the area," Sultan said. "But now there are disruptions in nearly everything else."
In the early afternoon, as fighting backed by Apache helicopter airstrikes continued along a roughly half-mile line near Gaza's coastal road here, a squad of a half-dozen Hamas gunmen arrived at the intersection near Sultan's house.
Working quickly with an Israeli drone buzzing overhead, one of them emptied a small plastic trash can and filled it with sand. The others removed a half-dozen mines the size of snare drums from duffel bags and placed them along the street, pushing piles of trash over them.
Another fighter unspooled detonator wire, running it into the orchards after attaching it to the mines. He then poured sand over the wire to hide it.
An elderly woman appeared in the street, shouting at the gunmen to stop their preparations. She was pushed aside.
"The battle right now is very ferocious," said Abu Ubaida, 24, the bushy-bearded gunman leading the squad. "The Israelis are trying to lure us in, but we will not allow them to do so. Right now our guys are attacking from the west and we are here, waiting in the east."
More and more gunmen appeared along the dirt roads crisscrossing the neighborhood, some drawing rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from bags. One of them dashed along the white walls with a grenade launcher, popping off a shot at an Israeli tank and sprinting into the garage of a nearby home to reload. A cheer of "God is greatest" arose from a pack of children who had assembled to throw stones at the tanks.
Not long afterward, an Apache helicopter appeared overhead, casting off two flares to mark the area of the heaviest combat. Two blasts from Israeli rockets quickly followed, hitting a group of Palestinians, including at least some gunmen, on a street corner less than a half-mile from Abu Ubaida's force.
Over the next few hours, emergency wards filled with dozens of wounded. Mourners surged into morgues to examine battered bodies, some charred beyond recognition, others dismembered.
At al-Shifa Hospital, where five bodies arrived to a throng of people gathered in the courtyard, doctors yelled angrily at gunmen and children alike to leave an emergency room overflowing with patients and visitors.
In a shared room on the hospital's fourth floor, Wissam al-Sheik Khalil recovered from a bullet wound to his hip. Khalil, a 16-year-old with an adolescent's wispy mustache, said Hamas gunmen forced him to carry an explosive charge across a street watched by Israeli soldiers.
"As soon as I picked up the box I was hit," he said.
Alaa Najar, a volunteer paramedic, his pale-blue shirt stained with brown swirls of blood, opened and closed the stainless steel drawers of the hospital morgue's refrigerator, surrounded by clamoring friends and relatives of victims, and the simply curious. There were five men lying inside them by late afternoon. Najar had helped deliver them all.
"I've been working since early this morning," said Najar, 25. "I am stunned by this, shaken. But I can't rest now."