Scenes of mass destruction, coupled with smell of decomposing bodies, welcome about half-million of Palestinians as they left UN shelters and ventured into Gaza streets after announcing a 72-hour ceasefire on Tuesday.
“This is complete destruction,” Zuhair Hjaila, a 33-year-old father of four, told Reuters on Tuesday, August 5.
“I never thought I would come back to find an earthquake zone.”
Hjaila, who is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced by the month-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, was dumfounded by the level of damage in his home town.
The large scale of mass destruction in Gaza has left about 5,510 homes completely destroyed and about 31,000 partially damaged, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes that were caught up in the Israeli air strikes.
“Thousands of homes have been completely destroyed, plus there are all those that were partially damaged,” Mufid Hasayneh, minister of public works, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Returning to their homes for the first time since four weeks, Gaza’s war-weary residents found that they have lost everything, with only rubbles of their destroyed homes dominating the scene.
“Everybody lost everything,” Mohammed Al Garra, 25, who had invested 10 years of his savings in three-story house where he and eight members of his family once lived in this southern Gaza village, told Wall Street Journal.
“I still owe people.”
Al Garra was among Palestinians who hurled to assess damage after announcing the three-day ceasefire.
While many Palestinians were sitting on piles of debris in Gaza streets, others couldn’t recognize their town amid scenes of utter destruction.
“Is this really my town?” asked, Khayri Hasan al-Masri, who fled his home in Beit Hanun with his wife and three children nearly three weeks ago.
“”What am I going to tell my wife and children? I don’t want them to see this! They will go crazy. How can I explain all this?
“What did we do to him, (Benjamin) Netanyahu?” he asks of Israel’s prime minister.”
Amid their plight of losing relatives, homes and most of the infrastructure of the besieged territory, Palestinians hope to restore their normal life, rebuilding their ruined city.
“We are tired and have paid a heavy price already,” Samar Habib, Gaza resident, told Anadolu Agency.
“We only want to lead a normal life.”
A similar hope was shared by Al Garra of Southern Gaza.
“We can build it again, but so far we are staying here until we find another job, anything to do to make money,” Al Garra said.
“Then I’ll think about rebuilding it.”
Deserted for weeks, the streets of Gaza have restored their bustle with thousands of Palestinians who have been taking advantage of the lull to collect their food supplies.
Staying in the streets without shelters, Palestinians haven’t decided yet what would be their next destination after ending the truce next Friday, August 8.
“I’ll stay here during the truce. If the war resumes, I’ll go back” to a shelter, said Khadar al-Masri has moved a mattress under a concrete slab that threatens to give way at any moment.
“All this is a test from God, but don’t misunderstand: we will pick ourselves up again.”
Israel has been launching relentless airstrikes against Gaza since July 8 where 1,867 have been killed and about 10 thousands injured.
According to UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about 80% of deaths in Gaza are civilians, including dozens of children and women.
Israel occupation forces started a ground invasion of besieged Gaza, home to two millions civilian, on Thursday, July 17.
OCHA estimates that about 10% of Gaza Population, 267,970 people, are sheltering in 90 UNRWA schools. ONISLAM