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Internet and phone services slowly return to Gaza after power outage amid heavy shelling

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KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Two days after cell and internet service abruptly disappeared in most of Gaza amid intense Israeli bombardment, the crowded enclave was back online Sunday as systems communications were gradually restored.

WATCH: Israel steps up bombing and ground operations, plunging Gaza into internet blackout

It’s a welcome development for Gaza after a communications blackout that began Friday evening as Israel expanded its ground operations and launched intense airstrikes that lit up the night sky with furious orange flashes. A few rare Palestinians with an international SIM card or satellite phone took it upon themselves to spread the news.

However, by Sunday morning, phone and internet communications had been restored to many people in Gaza, according to the region’s telecommunications providers, internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and on-the-ground confirmation.

After weeks of total Israeli siege, Palestinians in Gaza felt the noose tightening. Social media has been a lifeline for Palestinians desperate to get news and share their terrible plight with the world. Now even that was gone. Many were consumed by despair and fear as the Israeli military announced a new stage in its war, launched in response to a bloody Hamas cross-border attack on October 7, and its troops entered Gaza.

Exhausted and fearful that her connection to the world was so tenuous that it could be severed at any moment, Palestinian journalist Hind al-Khoudary, 28, said the massive airstrikes that shook the ground were beyond anything. that she had experienced in the last three weeks or any of the others. the four previous wars between Israel and Hamas.

“It was crazy,” she said.

On Saturday, residents walked through dilapidated neighborhoods under heavy bombardment to see their loved ones. Medics chased away the thunder of artillery and bombs because they could not receive distress calls. Survivors pulled the dead from the rubble with their bare hands and loaded them into cars and donkey carts.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Anas al-Sharif, an independent journalist. “Entire families remain under the rubble. »

Reached by WhatsApp, independent photojournalist Ashraf Abu Amra, from northern Gaza, said panic and confusion surrounded him.

“It’s barely possible to send this message,” he said. “All I want to say is that the international community must intervene and immediately save the people of Gaza from death. »

Local journalists posting daily on social media scoured the 360 ​​square kilometer (140 square mile) territory to find even a spotty connection. Some moved closer to the southern border with Egypt, hoping to tap into that country’s network. Others had foreign SIM cards and special routers connected to the Israeli network.

Mohammed Abdel Rahman, a journalist from northern Gaza, followed the Israeli airstrikes throughout the night, noting that the raids were concentrated along the strip’s northern border with Israel.

“A new bombardment is taking place as we speak,” he said, as the roar of explosions echoed in the background. “There is an explosion, gunshots and clashes are heard near the border.”

“We don’t know if there are (dead) or injured because of the lack of communication,” added Abdel Rahman.

When the pace of bombing slowed Saturday morning, residents rushed to the homes of loved ones with whom they had lost contact overnight.

“Right now, people are walking and using their cars because there is no Internet,” al-Khoudary said. “Everyone is watching us, seeing us, and now we’re going to watch everyone else.”

She went directly to Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, where the doctors, exhausted from operating on patient after patient, with less and less fuel and medical supplies, continued, despite the crowds of some 50,000 people took refuge in the compound.

The injured streamed in from the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, al-Khoudary said, where Israeli bombs caused destruction the night before.

Gaza health authorities and United Nations agencies warned that the power outage had exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said communications outages had paralyzed an overwhelmed health system. As ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra spoke to reporters at a news conference broadcast live by the Al Jazeera satellite network from the hospital, an elderly man with glasses positioned himself just behind the podium.

As al-Qidra spoke, the man waved to the camera and pointed his hands toward the sky — apparently hoping to reassure someone in the distance that he was alive.

International aid organizations, whose limited operations inside the enclave are on the brink of collapse, said they were unable to reach their staff nearly 24 hours after the outage.

The head of the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency, Philippe Lazzarini, has written a public letter to his staff in Gaza expressing “tremendous concern” for their safety.

“I constantly hope that this hell on earth will end soon and that you and your families will be safe,” he wrote. “You are the face of humanity during one of its darkest hours.”

Doctors Without Borders said the group had not communicated with its team in Gaza since 8 p.m. Friday.

“We are not able to send our team to different facilities because we have no way to coordinate with them,” Guillemette Thomas, regional medical coordinator, said from Paris. “It’s really a critical situation.”

Kullab reported from Baghdad and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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