Residents of Khan Younis return to their ruined homes after the Israeli withdrawal

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Khan Yunis, Gaza

Palestinians forced from their homes in Khan Younis by Israel’s military offensive have begun returning in small numbers to the southern Gaza city following the withdrawal of israeli forcesand many arrive to discover that their old neighborhoods seem like a wasteland.

Video footage filmed by a CNN correspondent shows dozens of returning residents surveying the city’s ruins, some of them standing atop destroyed buildings, examining piles of rubble that were once homes.

The Israeli military said on Sunday it had withdrawn its ground forces from Khan Younis after months of fierce fighting in what it described as a major Hamas stronghold. Much of the city, once home to hundreds of thousands of people, has been leveled and video shows completely smashed frames of houses alongside roads strewn with rubble and rubble.

It shows the returning residents retrieving the few things they can salvage; mattresses, rugs, kitchen containers and blocks of wood. Some children carry sofas and chairs on their backs.

“This is what happened in Gaza,” says a man, driving his motorcycle through the rubble.

Other former residents arrived on foot, some on bicycles, others in pickup trucks, and others on donkey backs.

Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Former residents recover belongings from their homes in Khan Younis, Gaza, April 7, 2024.

Perched on a dusty rug with her back resting on a large cushion, Aseel, 12, points to a pile of rubble in front of her, where she says her house used to be.

“There it was, destroyed,” he says.

“Our house no longer exists. We managed to grab some furniture. [but] We were only able to recover small things from our house. I wish I could have gotten my clothes.”

Another young Palestinian woman, Tamar, carries pieces of wood.

“I’ll go sell them to earn between 10 and 20 shekels, so I never have to reach out and ask people for money,” he explains.

He didn’t recognize his house when he first returned, Tamar says. “If it weren’t for my neighbors, I wouldn’t have known it was my house. Devastation everywhere,” he states.


Tamar carries wood to sell.

The vast majority of buildings shown in the images, including homes, offices and mosques, have suffered significant damage and many are completely demolished.

On Monday, the European Hospital in Gaza said the bodies of 46 Palestinians had been recovered following the Israeli withdrawal from Khan Younis, most of them “found dead under the rubble of demolished buildings.”

The buildings that still stand are covered in soot and riddled with bullet holes and artillery damage.

Piles of empty bullet casings and the remains of at least one mortar lie on the ground.

“My house was completely destroyed. There were three floors and now it is one with the ground. I didn’t keep any memories. Like everyone here. They destroyed the area in a barbaric and intentional way,” says another former resident, Saad.

Mahmoud Ahmad, an elderly man, stands inside his destroyed house, reduced to just a frame. He points out areas that used to be rooms, telling what used to be where and what he has lost.

“That was my washing machine, the Israelis burned it. Had a nice little seating area here, it no longer exists. That was my refrigerator, look, the door is off. This was the kitchen. Nothing remains.”

AFP/Getty Images

Graffiti left on a building in Khan Younis after Israel withdrew its ground forces from the southern Gaza city. April 7, 2024.

Throughout the footage in Khan Younis, Israeli drones can be heard buzzing overhead, as well as occasional gunshots.

On the walls of what appears to be the office of a telecommunications company there is graffiti of Stars of David and anti-Arab profanities written in English.

“Gaza belongs to the Jews,” reads an inscription in Arabic on the wall inside a demolished building.

Before the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, was home to more than 400,000 people, according to Gaza’s Interior Ministry.

In the early days of the war, the city was a refuge for thousands of Palestinian civilians fleeing Israeli military operations in northern Gaza.

But when Israeli forces began an attack on Khan Younis in beginning of decemberthose who lived there were forced to seek refuge further south.

AFP/Getty Images

Graffiti left inside a building in Khan Younis, Gaza, on April 7, 2024.

More than a million Palestinians are now sheltered in dire humanitarian conditions in the southern city of Rafah, where Israel is also located. planning an offensive.

Even for those who can now return to Khan Younis, there is little comfort to be found.

Among those interviewed in the CNN images is Abdelkarim, a young Palestinian sitting next to his destroyed school.

He says that while he was sheltered in Rafah he spent time reading and writing because he knew he would not be able to go back to school.

“How are we going to learn now?” he asks. “There is no life anymore. Our childhood is gone. “They destroyed us.”

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