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Palestinians walk past damaged buildings in Khan Yunis on April 8, 2024 after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip, six months into the devastating war sparked by the October 7 attacks. Image Credit: AFP

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza: Safa Qandil returned home to Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Monday only to find that she no longer has one.

Thousands of displaced Gazans have been trudging back through the apocalyptic landscape of the devastated city after the Israeli army pulled out on Sunday following months of fierce fighting with Hamas militants.

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But as often as not it is to find their home is no longer there.

“We hoped we would find the house or the remnants of it or take something from it to cover us,” Qandil, 46, told AFP.

“We did not find the house,” she said.

Image Credit: AFP

That is not, however, the worst of her loss. Her son and his pregnant wife were killed by the Israeli army, she said.

“My tragedy is great,” she said, adding that the army also killed her daughter-in-law’s “father, brother, sister, aunt and the rest of her family in a very heinous crime.”

“It is unnatural and indescribable,” she said.

“In every house there is a martyr (someone dead), a wounded person, words cannot describe the magnitude of the devastation and the suffering we experienced.

“We cried hysterically at the sight of the blood.”

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Image Credit: AFP

‘Nothing intact’

Such is the destruction of the city that many residents returning from neighbouring Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Gazans have been sheltering, have struggled to find their way around.

“We don’t recognise places, because nothing looks the same,” said Salim Sharab.

Others told AFP that the smell of death hangs in the air, with people digging bodies of the rubble.

The city’s civil defence appealed to the United Nations on Monday for hydraulic equipment to get to the bodies, most of which they say are badly decomposed.

Sharab was still holding onto the hope that his home had survived the fighting and bombardment that levelled whole swathes of a city that was once home to nearly 400,000 people.

Such was the 37-year-old’s longing to return, “even if my house is destroyed, I will set up my tent on top of it,” he said.

Aisha Al-Hoor’s hopes have already been dashed. “My house was completely destroyed and is rubble. My heart was consumed with pain, in every corner of my house there were memories... the scale of the devastation is indescribable.

“The army left nothing intact for the people,” she said. “The anger and pain in our hearts will never be forgotten.”

Mohammed Dahalan was one of the lucky ones. His apartment was intact even though his neighbours had lost their walls and windows.

However, the Israeli army left “explosive materials inside... we do not know how to handle them.”

Muhammad Abu Diab said he was in shock. “There is nothing left. I cannot bear the sight. I’m going to my house and I know it’s destroyed,” said the 29-year-old.

“I’m going to look in the rubble until I find clothes to wear. I’ll go back and live next to the rubble of my house even if it’s in a tent. We are exhausted.”

The Gaza war was sparked by the October 7 attack against Israel by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,207 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.