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100 Survivors Rescued in Gaza From Ruins Blocked by Israelis

Israel continues its military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip as diplomats in Cairo suggest tentative progress in their efforts to reach a cease-fire.

Two surviving members of the Samuni family said dozens of their relatives in the area had been rounded up by the Israeli military early Sunday and ordered to stay inside a handful of houses while soldiers conducted operations door-to-door. They said some people died in the shelling, which left a gaping hole in the roof of the Samuni home.

On Friday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it had confirmed the account of what happened to the Samuni family. Calling it "one of the gravest incidents" in Gaza since the start of the fighting, the U.N. said Israeli soldiers had packed about 110 Palestinians into the house Sunday, then "shelled the home repeatedly" 24 hours later.

The U.N. said about 30 people were killed inside. It said three children, the youngest five months old, died after reaching a hospital.

Survivors of the fighting in Zaytoun remained scattered at hospitals across Gaza on Friday, and Red Cross officials said they were trying to account for their whereabouts and medical condition. The Israeli military has barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza.

"It was horrible," said Shifaa Samuni, 70, who was detained in the family's house but fled with her grandson Monday afternoon after the killings. She said two of her sons and three daughters-in-law were among the dead.

"Look how much I lost," she said at al-Quds Hospital, where she was receiving treatment for minor injuries, including wounds to her hands. "Why? We did nothing. We are a peaceful family."

Ahmad Talal Samuni, 23, said the neighborhood came under heavy shelling and helicopter gunfire Saturday night. He said that when tanks approached, two of his uncles and their families, who lived nearby, rushed over to seek refuge in his home, about 45 people all told. The next morning, he said, fighting resumed and soldiers came to the house.

"They told us not to leave -- not by using loudspeakers, but by shooting," he said in a telephone interview from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where he was tending to other relatives. "The soldiers were shooting in the air and they told us to go east, in the direction of Salah Din Street."

The soldiers ordered the family into a large concrete house owned by another relative, Ahmad Samuni said. By then, about 70 people were gathered inside, he recalled. "The soldiers told us not to leave. . . . We were hungry. There was no milk for the babies, no medicine for the ill children."

Shortly before dawn Monday, three Samuni men decided to leave the house so they could gather other relatives and bring them back, said Meysa Fawzi Samuni, 19, a member of the family who survived the fighting and gave an extensive interview to B'Tselem. The group provided a written version of her statement to The Washington Post, but she could not be reached to independently confirm her account.

Meysa Samuni told B'Tselem that an explosion struck the doorway of the house as the three men prepared to leave, killing one of them. Moments later, a larger explosion on the roof rocked the house. She said she fell to the floor, covering her infant daughter with her body.

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