GAZA (News21USA) – After seven weeks of shelling halted in Gaza by a truce, Tahani al-Najjar took advantage of the calm on Saturday to return to the ruins of her home, destroyed by an Israeli airstrike that she said killed seven members of her family and forced her to enter a shelter.
More than 24 hours after the four-day lull in fighting, thousands of Gaza residents are making the same difficult journey from communal shelters and makeshift camps to discover what has become of their homes.
“Where will we live? Where will we go? We are trying to collect pieces of wood to build a tent to protect us, but to no avail. There is nothing to shelter a family,” said Najjar, rummaging through the rubble and twisting metal from his house.
Najjar, a 58-year-old mother of five from Khan Younis, in the south of the enclave, said the Israeli army had also razed her home in two previous conflicts, in 2008 and 2014.
He pulled several miraculously intact mugs from the ruins, where a bicycle and dust-covered clothing lay in the rubble. “We’re going to rebuild again,” she said.
For many of the 2.3 million people living in the tiny Gaza Strip, the pause in near-constant air and artillery strikes has offered a first opportunity to move safely, take stock of the devastation and seek access to aid imports.
At open-air markets and aid depots, thousands of people lined up to receive some of the aid that began arriving in Gaza in greater quantities as part of the truce.
Since Hamas militants launched their unprecedented attack on Israeli cities on October 7, killing 1,200 people, Israel’s response has been the bloodiest and most destructive offensive ever in the 40-kilometer-long Gaza enclave (25 miles).
Palestinian health officials in Hamas-controlled territory say the bombing has killed more than 14,000 people, 40% of them children, and leveled swaths of residential districts. They have said thousands more bodies could remain under the rubble, with official death tolls yet to be recorded.
Last month, the Israeli army told all civilians to leave the north of the strip, where fighting was heaviest, but continued bombing the south, where hundreds of thousands fled and where Najjar’s home was located.
He has said civilians should not return north during the truce and many of those who fled south are now seeking information from those who stayed.
Meanwhile, the accompanying blockade has added to a humanitarian crisis with little electricity for hospitals, drinking water, fuel for ambulances or food and medicine.
At a UN agency center in Khan Younis, people waited for gas for cooking. Supplies had begun to run low a few weeks ago and many people were cooking food over campfires fueled by wood recovered from bomb sites.
Mohammed Ghandour had been waiting for five hours to fill his cylindrical metal canister, after waking up at dawn at the school where he and his family take shelter and making the long trip to the depot, but it was still too late. “Now I’m going home without gas,” he said.
However, at the Rafah crossing with Egypt, trucks could be seen moving slowly across the border into Gaza early on Saturday bringing new supplies.