Gaza family clings to destroyed home after Israeli withdrawal

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 12:18 PM

By Doaa Rouqa

GAZA (Reuters) – When Israeli forces withdrew from Khan Younis, the Al-Najjar family braced for the worst before returning to the southern Gaza city where their house was obliterated by an Israeli airstrike in the war against Hamas.

Viewing the destruction of their home, they expected more uncertainty brought by the now six-month-old conflict with no sign of a ceasefire as a humanitarian crisis squeezes the population, which could face famine.

Umm Eyad al-Najjar said the family will set up a tent after once living in a comfortable home with her husband, daughter and grandchildren.

“How can we endure that? There’s no water or anything. I can’t eat like I used to,” she said. “You know how it is in the tents, we’re surrounded by strangers, and our relatives aren’t there to talk to… Everything is destroyed.”

Many of her family members were killed, she said. Their bodies are still being uncovered. Every house has someone who has been killed or wounded, she added.

For now, Umm Eyad said she plans to just sit in front of her house as the war keeps raging.

The conflict began when Hamas, which runs Gaza, burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people and dragged more than 200 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas, retaliated with a relentless bombardment of the enclave that has killed more than 33,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities.

Khan Younis has come under Israeli bombardment in recent months.

Israel said on Sunday it had withdrawn more soldiers from southern Gaza, leaving just one brigade.

It has been reducing numbers in Gaza since the start of the year to relieve reservists and is under growing pressure from top ally Washington to improve the humanitarian situation, especially after last week’s killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers.

Gaza authorities said they discovered more than 60 bodies in Khan Younis since the Israeli forces departed after operating there for months.

Much of Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas, has been reduced to rubble. Neighbourhoods have been transformed into wastelands, leaving many Palestinians to wonder how they can ever rebuild their homes.

Umm Eyad’s husband, Ibrahim al-Najjar, said he had counted his blessings throughout his life in Gaza, an impoverished but once lively place with restaurants, hospitals and schools.

Much of that has been pulverised, leaving families living in schools or tents. Finding food is a daily struggle.

“We had cattle, all of that is gone now. An entire farm, gone, 250 heads of cattle that we would slaughter and sell their meat, to make a living but also eat,” said Ibrahim, surveying the rocks of a demolished home.

He remains attached to his home no matter what, he said.

“My home is better than the whole world, even if I have to sit on just the dust that remains,” he said. “I lived here, I’ll die here.”

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Bill Berkrot)