Rockets blaze across a pitch-black sky, illuminating Gaza, its empty streets concealing terrified families behind closed doors, praying for an end to the siege.

The onslaught commenced early the morning of June 28, about 2:30 a.m., targeting first the main bridges connecting Gaza City, refugee camps and other towns, isolating residents within. Moments later, another missile finds its mark — the main power station. By the end of the night, both power stations are out. In an instant, Gaza falls dark.

With Gaza’s main power plant in tatters, energy is now even more rare than usual for the territory’s 1.4 million residents, and dwindling diesel supplies for the few that have generators are being rationed, the Toronto Star reports today.

Also yesterday, Israel rounded up 64 members of the ruling Hamas party in the West Bank, including eight cabinet ministers, in an operation Israel officials said had been in the works for a long time, the Star reports, adding that much of the Palestinian government is now behind bars, with many of the rest going underground to avoid a similar fate.

Israel said it launched the Gaza siege in response to a raid by Palestinian resistance fighters in which one Israel soldier was captured.

With no army, no tanks, helicopters, jets or bulldozers to defend themselves, Gazans are up against the world’s fourth largest military power and preparing for the worse.

In Eastern Rafah, Abu Adnan, 48 confirmed that Israeli bulldozers were demolishing greenhouses, olive tree and orange groves close to the airport.

Israeli officials say they do not intend to reoccupy Gaza, after withdrawing their occupation forces in September 2005 to encamp around the region’s perimeter. At the time, Palestinians rejoiced in the streets, waving flags and hopeful that the humiliation of checkpoints, the waiting and daily incursions would be over. But that did not happen. The Israeli withdrawal effectively placed Gaza in a bubble, with Israel maintaining total control over all aspects of Gaza life including airspace, water and commerce. Even the shelling continued, with Israel sending in more than 5,000 missiles and mortars into Gaza between October 2005 and June 9, 2006.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri claims the reinvasion of Gaza was planned well before the Israeli soldier was captured. The Popular Resistance Committee, Izzedden Al Qassan, Hamas’ militant wing, and the newly formed Army of Islam have claimed responsibility for the capture of Karem Shaloum, 19. The three factions reportedly have offered Shaloum as part of a prisoner’s exchange. They seek the release of Palestinian women and children currently held in Israeli jails, many without charges and several under age 10.

Israel has refused, and has stated its siege on Gaza will continue until Shaloum is released.

"It’s obvious that this time the occupiers are not coming to play,” said Salim Al Odaini, a Rafah resident father of five Al Odaini was attempting to leave the area with his children at day break, their sandals dangling from limbs as the family attempts to escape the encroaching Israeli army. “They want to destroy and kill us. They want to commit these crimes against humanity. I couldn’t sleep last night, fearing for my children, who also could not sleep and didn’t want to go back to their beds.”

A primary target for the Israelis was the main water station, which supplies all the water to the middle part of Gaza. In the sweltering summer heat, lack of water is a death sentence for the elderly, the very young and the ill. Several hospitals can no longer able to function with water and utilities cut.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has predicted the number of casualties will increase significantly because of this.

"We are all leaving,” screamed Bahia Madi, running as she held her children tightly. “We’re afraid of the sweep," Ahead of her was Abu Yousef Al Najjar hospital, in Rafah Camp where she hoped to find shelter for her family. Behind her, the faint outline of tanks emerged from the blackened mist.

Peering from within their homes and businesses, families watch in horror as the flames of destruction emanated from combat helicopters in the sky, providing a glimpse of the carnage. All around, shells explode, the sharp “ting” of shrapnel bouncing off empty walls in desolate streets, echoing a warning.

Through the smoke, gazing from their hiding, parents shelter children within whole-body embraces as they gaze into blackness. Slowly through the mist of smoke and dust, outlines become clear. Israeli troops mounted on tanks, armored vehicles and bulldozers descend on southern Gaza, searching for Shaloum.

Thursday morning, as the sun slowly illuminates the sky, families pile into cars and horse-drawn carts, fleeing before the advancing army.

*this article reprinted from the Vermont Guardian