Gazans return to Khan Younis devastated beyond recognition

Photo of author


After Israel withdrew its forces from Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city, this weekend, civilians began returning. But after four months of war, the place they found was not the one they left.

“I couldn’t recognize the place,” a Palestinian aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said in a telephone interview Monday. “Even the streets are not there anymore.”

His house, he said, had “disappeared.” In its place were piles of rebar and cement. Nothing could be saved: the house, he estimated, had been hit by an air raid and then demolished. Other houses had been burned.

Residents returned to devastated Khan Younis on April 7, after Israel withdrew all but one brigade from southern Gaza. (Video: Reuters)

On Sunday, the sixth anniversary of the October 7 attacks on Israel and the start of the devastating war that followed, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that it was withdrawing all but one brigade from southern Gaza, marking a apparent turning point in the conflict.

However, for Khan Younis residents returning home, this does not mark a return to normality. More than 33,000 people in Gaza have been delicate In the conflict so far, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, it does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, while United Nations satellite images have shown that 12,710 buildings in the city have been destroyed, second only to the city from Gaza.

Gaza’s Civil Defense Ministry said on Monday that they had so far found 28 decomposing bodies around Khan Younis.

Nasser Hospital, the city’s main medical center, was still standing, but barely, its interior devastated. Debris and crushed and overturned cars and trucks lay in the surrounding streets.

The aid worker had borrowed his brother-in-law’s jeep to reach Khan Younis on Sunday from the coastal town of Mawassi, where he, his wife and six children had fled last month fearing that their previous place of refuge, Rafah , was destroyed. be Israel’s next target.

He said the extent of the damage had made navigation difficult. To get to her area, she stopped other cars and passersby to look for the correct routes to follow. The old roads he knew so well were destroyed by airstrikes or blocked by debris, she said. She took a winding path and occasionally encountered new quasi-roads forged by Israeli tanks.

When he arrived, his heart sank. “It was completely ruined,” he said of his neighborhood: “Not just demolished but distorted in a way that no one could recognize it.”

Khan Younis was home to about 400,000 people. It served as an economic center for southern Gaza and had a rich cultural history.

The city was filled with displaced people after Israel warned those living in Gaza’s densely populated north to evacuate on October 12, prompting hundreds of thousands to heed the warning. Two weeks later, after heavy airstrikes in the north, Israel launched its ground invasion.

Khan Younis was important to Israel’s military objectives. It was the birthplace of Yehiya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in it Gaza Strip. Israeli officials had said the city was a Hamas stronghold and suggested that Sinwar was hiding in Khan Younis.

On December 4, Israeli forces began advancing further south toward Gaza, telling civilians who had fled to Khan Younis to advance again, with most heading toward the southern border town of Rafah.

About half of Gaza’s pre-war population has been concentrated in Rafah, swelling the population of the small pre-war tent city. But even amid warnings of a possible offensive on Rafah by the Israeli military — a plan that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday must be carried out “to achieve victory” — some are too afraid to go back.

“We have truly lived through the worst days of our lives” since the war began, said Muhammed Al-Atrash, a 44-year-old father of three from Khan Younis who now lives in a tent in Rafah. “We achieve everything through suffering. We depend on canned foods for our diet. “We live in constant anxiety and fear.”

Military activity in Khan Younis has left the family home “uninhabitable,” Al-Atrash said on Sunday. “All the doors and windows were broken. The walls are collapsing. “We don’t live safe at all.”

The aid worker said traveling back to his home in Khan Younis caused him considerable personal pain and he could not bear to return.

“My kids and wife insisted on going today,” he said Monday. “They asked me to accompany them and I said no.”

He tried to stop them from leaving. They hired a taxi anyway. “Nothing good can come of this,” she said.

Jennifer Hassan and Lior Soroka contributed to this report.

Leave a comment