Palestinians fill Gaza streets heading home as truce begins

AFP , Ahram Online , Friday 24 Nov 2023

With children and pets in their arms and their belongings loaded onto donkey carts or car roofs, thousands of displaced Gazans headed home Friday as a four-day truce began.

Gazans return home
Palestinians who had taken refuge in temporary shelters return to their homes in eastern Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during the first hours of a four-day truce between Israel and Hamas, on November 24, 2023. AFP


The din of Israel's war was replaced by the horns of traffic jams and sirens of ambulances making their way through crowds emerging from hospitals where they had taken refuge.

For nearly seven weeks, Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip had been relentless.

But on Friday morning, no more shots were heard in Khan Yunis, in the south of the Palestinian territory.

Hayat al-Muammar was among those hurrying to take advantage of the truce deal, under which captives seized from Israel will be freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

"I'm going home," said the 50-year-old, who had been sheltering in a school.

"We fled the death, destruction and everything," she told AFP.

"I still don't understand what happened to us -- why did they do this to us?" she asked.

The lives of Palestinians in the Gaza strip have been turned upside down since an air and ground invasion launched by Israel killed nearly 15,000 people, around two thirds of them women and children.

Some 1.7 million of the territory's 2.4 million people are estimated to have been displaced, the United Nations says.

With more than half of homes damaged or destroyed according to the UN, Gazans were unsure if would still have a roof over their heads when they return.

'War not over'

Whipping a donkey pulling his cart, Ahmed Fayad, 30, hit the road heading back to his village with 70 members of his family who he said had taken refuge in a school.

An elderly man walked by with a bag on his shoulder, saying he felt safe enough to return to his home near the border with Israel.

Around them, a multitude of men, women and children travelled on foot, carts or tuk-tuks with the few belongings they had taken with them when the Israeli aggression started.

One woman carried her cat in her arms through the streets.

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the besieged territory faces shortages of food, water and fuel.

However, Israeli warplanes over southern Gaza dropped leaflets threatening people not to head back to the north.

"The war is not over yet," they read. "Returning to the north is forbidden and very dangerous!!!"

According to Palestinian medical officials speaking to Al-Sharq, Israeli occupation army killed at least two Palestinians and injured others who attempted to return home in the northern Gaza.

Khaled al-Halabi left his home in northern Gaza at the start of the war, heading for Rafah in the far south on the Egypt-Gaza border.

"I wish I could go and see my house," he said.

He did not plan to risk the journey home, but at least with the truce "we will finally breathe after 48 days", he said, welcoming the arrival of aid trucks from neighbouring Egypt.

Raed Saqer, who took refuge in Rafah, said he hoped the promises of increased aid would come true.

"We needed this truce to treat the wounded, so that people could recover a little, because people displaced from the north are experiencing an unspeakable tragedy," he said.

"We hope it's the first step towards a definitive ceasefire," he said.

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