Palestinians returning to Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, find widespread devastation

Residents who returned to the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya on Friday expected to find mass devastation, but said they were still shocked by the level of ruin they saw after three weeks of an Israeli offensive in the dense urban area.

“The destruction is indescribable,” said Mohammad Awais, who returned with his family to their home in Jabaliya on Friday. “Our minds are unable to comprehend what we are seeing.”

He said he and his family walked along devastated streets for nearly an hour in the heat and saw that no vehicles could navigate streets blocked by piles of rubble from homes and shops that had been destroyed by the Israeli army.

As they walked, rescuers passed by, carrying the wounded and the bodies of those killed on stretchers. Some bodies were found in the streets, others were dug out and pulled from the rubble — they were already starting to decompose, said Mr. Awais, a social media marketer.

“Not even ambulances can cross them to transport the wounded and martyrs,” he said, referring to the streets of Jabaliya.

The Israeli army said on Friday it had ended its offensive in eastern Jabaliya and withdrew after recovering the bodies of seven hostages, killing hundreds of fighters and destroying several kilometers of an underground tunnel network.

Satellite images captured in late May by Planet Labs showed the extent of the destruction in a southern area of ​​the city and in the area near the market.

According to images from April, some buildings had already been destroyed before the latest Israeli offensive in the area. But by late May, many more structures in those areas appeared razed, and nearly all vegetation had been razed.

Mr. Awais and his family are among the few residents who still have a place to return to. Their house was only partially damaged. On Friday they began cleaning up parts of collapsed walls, broken wood and glass and ruined furniture so that their home was habitable again. But the family's supermarket, which had to close in December because of Israel's siege of Gaza, was completely destroyed, he said.

“The rubble is everywhere,” he added.

On May 11, the Israeli army said it renewed its offensive in Jabaliya because Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that led the October 7 attack, was trying to rebuild its infrastructure and operations in the area . At the time, Hamas accused Israel of “intensifying its aggression against civilians across Gaza” and vowed to continue fighting.

Israel invaded northern Gaza for the first time after weeks of intense airstrike on the enclave following the October 7 attack. The army launched several deadly attacks in Jabaliya. Having survived the onslaught of the first months of the war, many people in Jabaliya thought they were safe from another Israeli offensive.

“Residents returned with tears in their eyes,” said Hossam Shbat, a Gaza journalist. “All we see is rubble, destruction and wreckage. And other massacres.”

He added: “Residents have returned to see what no one can imagine: the destruction of businesses, infrastructure and shelters that have sheltered thousands of displaced people.”

Jabaliya is often referred to as a camp because it was founded more than 70 years ago by Palestinian refugees who were expelled or forced to flee from their homes in what is now Israel during the creation of the state. They were never allowed to return to their homes and Jabaliya became a community populated by refugees and their descendants.

In a video recorded Thursday, Shbat shows the ruins of Jabaliya around him. Behind him, in the shell of a four-story building, fires still smoldered in the rubble.

“We can't describe it in words,” he said in an interview. “The occupying army has intentionally destroyed all the essential elements of life.”

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