Accompanied by the stench of raw sewage, rotting garbage, animal carcasses and human bodies buried under rubble, hundreds of thousands of Gazans yesterday left their homes and temporary refuges and returned to what two weeks ago were bustling neighborhoods and towns.
The humanitarian cease-fire was meant, above all, to allow for the removal of bodies trapped under bombed homes in residential areas adjacent to the border with Israel. Around 150 bodies were extricated yesterday, bringing the number of Palestinians killed in the past two-plus weeks of fighting past the thousand mark. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, of the 928 fatalities who had been identified by name as of 10 A.M. yesterday, 764 were civilians, and they included 215 children and 118 women.
For two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces barred Palestinian rescue teams from reaching wounded Palestinians or searching the ruins of destroyed homes for possible survivors if Israeli infantry units were operating nearby. Seven members of emergency medical teams were killed by the IDF in the past two weeks while trying to reach the wounded. Two were killed on Friday, in Beit Hanun and in eastern Khan Yunis. In an unknown number of incidents, EMT teams turned back after being shot at by Israeli soldiers. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that even yesterday, during the cease-fire, EMT crews were stopped from entering Kaft Huza’a, east of Khan Yunis, where dozens of civilians were killed by the IDF late Tuesday night or early Wednesday. It’s not known how many people are still buried under the rubble, whether dead or injured.
In the day preceding the humanitarian cease-fire, 75 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire or air attacks in the Gaza Strip, 52 of them civilians. According to the Palestinian human rights center, 18 of these were children and eight were women.
In a single air strike, about five hours before the cease-fire went into effect, 20 members of Samir Hussein Muhammed al-Najar’s family died when a bomber fired a missile at the two-story building, including 11 children and five women, including Samir, 58, Ra’aliya, 56, and their children Majd, 19, Kifah, 24 and Samr, 26; relatives Amir, 2, Islam 3, and Amira, eight months; and Riham, 25 and pregnant.
In one of the bombing runs on the night between Thursday and Friday, Husam Yassin, 15, a grandson of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, was killed.
At 7 P.M. Friday, an IDF shell hit a hospital in Beit Hanun. Hospital staff, civilians and two volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement were in the building.
They reported that Israeli soldiers had been seen outside the building and that exchanges of gunfire had been heard in the area. As a result of gunfire in the vicinity of the hospital, most of the patients had been evacuated previously. The firing on the hospital continued until Friday night.
“It was absolute chaos, the army shelled the hospital. There are two patients on the second floor and we think they’re all right but we can’t move them easily because they’re bedridden. I’m bleeding from my head because of an injury, and another person was also wounded. People are scared,” a Swedish volunteer at the hospital said. The hospital was not evacuated until yesterday morning, when the humanitarian cease-fire went into effect.
During the night between Thursday and Friday, IDF fire hit the a-Dura children’s hospital in Gaza City. A 1-year-old infant in the pediatric intensive care unit was killed and 30 other patients were injured. They were evacuated to Shifa Hospital.
A Beit Hanun man who was among the thousands who fled their homes in the middle of last week returned home yesterday morning, like thousands of others, hoping to at least take a few changes of clothing for himself, his wife and his family, who was staying with friends in Jabalya.
“It was as if a tsunami had hit,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell what was our home and what was the neighbors’. And when I did figure it out, I discovered that there was nothing to take. All the furniture and the clothing was burned or still burning. The house was half-destroyed. All our savings, for decades, gone.”
Shujaiyeh, which had about 100,00 Palestinian inhabitants, not refugees, had turned into “a ghost town,” said a woman who went to see the destruction. “Residential buildings had not only been destroyed in bombing raids but also ground into gravel, sand, piles of dirt. I’ve seen destroyed homes in my life. Usually you can tell where the buildings were, even where the walls had been. This was different. You can’t tell where a building used to be, how many buildings were there before the bombardments. A few buildings are still standing, others totally disappeared.”