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Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at the scene of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City November 17, 2012. Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the prime minister's office, after Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists, preparing for a possible ground invasion.AHMED ZAKOT/Reuters

The air strike begins with a rumble, which grows louder as the people wince, and then bursts into a crash, as though the night sky over Gaza had split open and crumbled.

In the three days since Israel began an aerial campaign against Gaza, air strikes have pounded the territory continuously, but after dark the raids intensify.

In a third-floor apartment in the Nasser neighbourhood of Gaza City, the family leaves the windows open to try to prevent the glass from shattering when the air displaced by each blast radiates out in a burst.

The street in front of the building is already covered in a shimmering carpet of shards from the panes of their unluckier neighbours.

The shockwaves from each blast gust into their home, blowing apart the curtains as the building trembles and the fixtures rattle from the force of the impact.

Sometimes a single strike sounds, other times multiple blasts, in a terrifying rhythm that leaves residents trembling and holding their breath.

At times, the blasts shake children awake, and some begin to cry immediately, reaching for the comfort of a parent's embrace. Others wet themselves with fear, or freeze, too scared even to cry.

Laila Saker, 29, is eight-and-half months pregnant and the mother of six-year-old Razan and four-year-old Uday.

"My daughter Razan hasn't spoken for the last two days. She rarely makes a sound. My son, Uday, has become aggressive. I've been trying to relax them... but I feel like it isn't working," she said.

"I'm afraid for my unborn baby and my children. I want to cry during the bombing but I'm holding myself together for the children because I don't want them to be afraid."

A resident of the Nasser neighbourhood, she cowered in terror in her home throughout dozens of air strikes on Thursday night, and decided to move in with her in-laws on Friday, hoping their home might be safer.

"As soon as I got there I began crying uncontrollably," she said Friday night, speaking as a new round of strikes knocked out power.

"I've never experienced such a bad night, it was the worst night of my life. It's the first time I've been that terrified."

The sound of outgoing fire inspires fear too. Smaller rockets whoosh upwards, bigger ones are sometimes loud enough to be mistaken for incoming fire – just without the crash of an impact.

Since Wednesday afternoon, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes, targeting every city in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, which is dotted throughout with Hamas facilities and rocket launching sites.

Families argue about where to go. But for most, there are simply no options. Leaving Gaza is virtually impossible, and there are no bomb shelters and no places to hide.

As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, the blasts slowed, and the sound of drones filled the air, buzzing like distant lawnmowers.

For a while, there was relative quiet, just one big blast an hour, shaking people awake long enough for them to readjust and go back to sleep.

But shortly after 5:00 am, two strikes in quick succession hit close enough to make the building vibrate, and bounce the sleeping around in their beds.

Shortly afterwards, five sharp blasts shake the building again and the shadows thrown on the ceiling by a lightshade jump back and forth as as the bulb sways along with the room.

The strikes levelled the Hamas government headquarters, and damaged surrounding homes. Panic gripped the neighbourhood, and dust filled the air.

"It's like a real-life horror movie, what I saw today," said 18-year-old Suha, standing in front of her house with her mother. "It's a miracle we're still alive."

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