Gaza residents return to scenes of devastation from Israel-Hamas fighting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 6:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 6:27am

Thousands of Gaza residents who had fled Israel-Hamas fighting streamed back to devastated border areas during a lull yesterday to find large-scale destruction: scores of homes were pulverised, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.

The 12-hour truce, which Israel said has been extended by another four hours, was the only apparent outcome from last week's high-level mediation mission by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon. They failed to broker a week-long ceasefire as they had hoped. Instead, Israel's defence minister warned it might soon expand the ground operation in Gaza significantly.

In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, residents encountered widespread destruction. Most had fled days earlier, following Israeli warnings that the town would be shelled.

Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had moved into two months earlier and spent 10 years saving for had been destroyed.

"Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone," she said.

At least 1,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded over the past 19 days, Palestinian officials say. Israeli strikes have also destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting.

Ambulances of the Red Crescent reached the hardest-hit areas, including Beit Hanoun and the eastern Shijaiyah district of Gaza City, to recover bodies buried under the rubble.

More than 130 bodies were pulled from the rubble, many of them partially decomposed, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Fighters were among the dead, said Gaza Civil Defence spokesman Said al-Saoudi.

In Paris yesterday, riot police fired tear gas as tensions rose at a 5,000-strong pro-Palestinian rally that went ahead in defiance of a ban. Organisers of the protest had tried going to court to get the ban overturned, but they were unsuccessful.

After an initially peaceful start, police began firing tear gas after some hooded protesters threw cans and other objects at them, and several journalists were roughed up.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse