WRITTEN BY: Naser Najjar and Ruby Russell, Special for USA TODAY
GAZA CITY -- At the al Magazi refugee camp in Gaza, a convoy of four ambulances pulled in with the bodies of nine men, all Hamas members killed in Israeli airstrikes.
Residents of the camp greeted the convoy with the green flags of Hamas and a mixture of pride and sorrow for the dead. They chanted "God is great, death to Israel."
The body of Osama Abd Al Jawad, 26, a Hamas fighter with a wife and infant daughter, was draped with the green flag and taken to the local mosque.
"Being apart from him is hard but he will remain alive in my heart," said his father Mohammed Abd Al Jawad.
In this refugee camp, known for its support of Hamas, locals expressed defiance.
"As long as the Israelis keep on occupying our land we must keep on targeting their lands, even harder," said Osama's brother, Amjad.
The imam of the mosque reminded locals of their need to comfort and take care of one another.
"Those young men left everything behind them for the sake of Allah and the sake of their cause," he said. "Their families are our responsibilities now and it's a duty for each one of you to ask if they need something from time to time."
The streets in Gaza City, among the most densely populated in the world, were filled Sunday afternoon with thousands of men and children attending the funerals of the recently killed.
Women looked on from windows and balconies above the streets. There was a building in every district that had been hit by Israeli missiles, among the hundreds of attacks aimed at Hamas rocket facilities and infrastructure.
Hamas has spent the past four years rebuilding missile batteries destroyed by Israel in a 2008 war, also sparked by Hamas rocket bombardments of Israeli towns and villages.
In that war, many of the rockets were launched in the streets by Hamas militants who would haul a launcher from a truck, fire off a projectile, and then speed away for cover in a garage or alleyway. This time Hamas has hidden launchers in underground bunkers connected to tunnels, and appear to have an organized battle plan for which ones to fire, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Israel had been watching the developments and planning a response accordingly. The IDF and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have developed a list of targets based on "precise intelligence" gathered through a network of informers, aerial surveillance and other high-tech measures.
Buildings in every Gaza City neighborhood show the signs of Israeli missile strikes, with one or two buildings destroyed in every district. Hamas flags that have appeared everywhere in the last week are among the few accents of bright color on gray, dust covered buildings.
No one locally speaks out against Hamas; the offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood is known to deal harshly with critics.
After Gazans gave Hamas a slight majority in legislative elections in 2006 over Fatah, the Palestinian faction that runs the West Bank, Hamas militants orchestrated an ouster of Fatah leaders in Gaza, murdering several and forcing others to flee to the West Bank. Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of torturing opponents and throwing some off buildings as a form of execution.
On Sunday, most Gazans hunkered down at home. Stores remained shut, with the exception of a few pharmacies, grocery stores and bakeries, serving those who dared to venture out to stock up on supplies.
Locals hoped that a truce could be negotiated more quickly than four years ago, when a three-week offensive by Israel called Operation Cast Lead killed more than 1,000 Gazans.
At another funeral nearby, the mother of farmers Mohammed and Ahmed Abu Jalal, mourned their loss. They were killed along with their nephew, Ziyad, 20 while sitting in their front yard when an Israeli shell landed.
"People can't handle burying one son in their lifetime and now I have to bury two in one day, oh God, merciful God," she cried.
Ahmed's wife worried how they would survive: Ahmed left behind seven children and Mohammed six.
"Life was hard on us in the first place, we barely managed to support ourselves when he was around," she said. "What shall happen to us now and who will take care of these children?"
Among those killed by missile strikes were sister and brother Jumana and Tamer Abu Sefan, aged one and three years. The children had been asleep in the single room of the Abu Sefan's home in Jabalia, near Hamdona Square, when the roof collapsed and crushed them.
Tamer was killed instantly. His sister Jumana died hours later at Al Shifa hospital.
"I kept on praying that she would live," said their mother, Huda Abu Sefan. "Those hours were the longest of my life. But when the sun rose, my daughter's life ended."
Russell reported from Berlin