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Displaced Palestinians in Gaza just want to go home

Adel Zaanoun
23 November 2023, MVT 01:14
Palestinians evacuate a body after an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Adel Zaanoun
23 November 2023, MVT 01:14

Why a truce if they can't go home? At Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, war-weary displaced Palestinians remain sceptical about the Israel-Hamas deal to exchange hostages for prisoners.

Maysara Assabagh is just one of 1.7 million people from the territory's 2.4 million population forced from his home in northern Gaza by Israeli bombardment.

They fled straight into the jaws of an appalling humanitarian crisis in the south.

"What truce are they talking about?" he asked on the 47th day of the war between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, demanding the displaced be allowed to go back to the north.

Completely penniless, he managed to find refuge at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis which now shelters some 35,000 displaced people.

"We don't need a truce just so aid can come in. We want to go home," Assabagh insisted.

"This entire war is one big injustice."

Early on Wednesday, Israel and Hamas said a deal had been reached to free 50 hostages held in Gaza for 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails during a four-day truce.

It was the first sign of respite since the war began on October 7.

But for 55-year-old Yasser al-Huwaiti, the truce is "dust in our eyes -- the war will start again afterwards".

Huwaiti used to live in Gaza City in the north, but now his house is a tent at the Nasser hospital.

"Today we're suffering because of the war, and tomorrow it will be because of our destroyed homes. Where will we live? How will we rebuild?"

Food and water are in short supply. Near the hospital, displaced people search for what they can find among market stalls.

The truce will provide barely enough time "to recover our martyrs from the streets and the ruins. We don't want a truce so aid can come in. We want a full ceasefire and to go home," Huwaiti said.

'Where will we live?'

The war erupted on October 7 when militants from Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, stormed across the border into Israel and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, the Israeli authorities say.

Hamas also seized 240 people and took them back into Gaza as hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas and began a relentless bombardment of the territory before sending the ground troops in at the end of October.

The Hamas government in Gaza says Israeli attacks have killed more than 14,000 people since the war began, among them more than 5,800 children.

Salma Qassem, 55, is from Beit Hanun in the north of the densely populated territory, and she too just wants to go home.

"To me the only thing that matters is when we can return to our homes," she said.

"But even if we do go back, where will we live? They've destroyed our homes.

"Our children are sick because of the cold and not enough food, water and medicine," Qassem said.

"Sickness is increasing because of the waste everywhere and not enough clean water."

Qatar, which helped mediate the Hamas-Israel deal, said the humanitarian pause would "be announced within the next 24 hours and last for four days, subject to extension".

The Gulf emirate said the accord would include "the entry of a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel designated for humanitarian needs".

Israel has made it clear hostilities would resume when the truce is over.

Despite the temporary nature of the truce and fears the humanitarian crisis will get even worse, some people like 44-year-old Halas remain hopeful.

For him, "it is good news -- its acceptance by Israel is a victory for our people", he said.

Halas believes the truce "will be extended because Israel met the conditions of the resistance.

"They will accept our return to Gaza, and we will rebuild our homes just as we did in previous wars."

© Agence France-Presse

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