Ceasefire reveals Gaza's Shujaiyya neighborhood reduced to rubble
As if struck by an earthquake, vast swathes of the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiyya have been reduced to rubble, with unknown numbers of burnt and decaying bodies buried below.
As a 12-hour ceasefire took effect Saturday, survivors began to venture out of their homes to survey what was left, while those who had fled cautiously returned to see what had become of the only homes they had ever known.
As of 2 p.m., medical teams had already recovered 85 bodies from the rubble.
Shell-shocked residents, meanwhile, wandered through the neighborhood, with one local telling Ma'an that returnees "could not even find the location of their houses."
Yasser Hamdiyya, who lost four members of his family in the assault so far, came to check on his four-story building in Shujaiyya.
He told Ma'an that the building used to house 22 people, but upon his return he found only a pile of stones. At least 20 neighboring buildings had been leveled as well, he said.
Others were unable to access their buildings because Israeli military tanks were still stationed throughout the neighborhood, blocking major gates as they prepared to return to fighting when the ceasefire ended at 8 p.m.
"It seems that a tsunami has changed the geography of Shujaiyya," Salim Abu Omar told Ma'an while standing in front of the rubble of the Hamdiyya family home.
"There used to be streets and residential blocks in this area, but they have become a pile of rocks."
When Ma'an spoke to him, Abu Omar was waiting with the hope that he could soon visit the rubble of his own house, which he had fled from four days ago.
Located at the eastern edge of al-Mansoura, he was afraid to return yet because Israeli military tanks were stationed in front of the rubble of his home.
Many drew comparisons between the ongoing assault on Gaza and the Nakba of 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in what became Israel. More than half of Gaza's people are Nakba refugees, descendants of those who were dispossessed by Israel.
At least 120,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the current attack. Because all borders are closed, however, the vast majority have sought refuge in UN-designated shelters in zones further from the epicenter of fighting.
These refuges, however, are not necessarily safer -- an Israeli shell hit a Beit Hanoun shelter on Wednesday, killing at least 17.
Perhaps cognizant of the memories of the Nakba and Israel's denial of the right of the refugees to return to their homes, locals Ma'an spoke to were afraid of Israeli intentions and were taking as many blankets with them as possible as they fled.
Meanwhile, rescue teams and paramedics continued to recover dead bodies from the debris, after they were denied access to the injured by Israel in the days before.
At least 85 bodies have been recovered by medical authorities so far, as they rush to collect as many as possible as the 12-hour window of calm quickly approaches an end.
Shujaiyya gained international attention earlier in the week, when an Israeli offensive in the area on Sunday killed more than 70 people, the vast majority civilians, in what medical officials called a "massacre."