A dazed Gaza picks up the pieces

Mohammed Hamouda sits in the rubble of his house in Jebaliya in the Gaza Strip Saturday. His home is one of many destroyed in the recent three-week-long Israeli military operation.

Associated Press

Mohammed Hamouda sits in the rubble of his house in Jebaliya in the Gaza Strip Saturday. His home is one of many destroyed in the recent three-week-long Israeli military operation.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — One week after the war with Israel and Hamas stopped — each side declaring a unilateral cease-fire — Gaza remains in a kind of stupor.

Most of Gaza, especially the capital, Gaza City, remains largely intact. But the areas where Israeli tanks and artillery poured in at the start of the three-week ground war are devastated: Juhr el Dik to the east, Beit Lahiya, El Atatra and sections of Jabaliya to the north, as well as the outer Gaza City neighborhoods of Zeitoun and Toufah.

Homes have been blown up or bulldozed, their squashed furniture visible beneath layers of collapsed concrete. Factories — for paint, dairy products, soft drinks — have been smashed. Schools have 10-foot holes in their walls. Wedding halls are blackened hulks. The American International School, a private institution in northern Gaza, has been destroyed. Mosques are gone.

Moreover, in addition to the buildings that housed Hamas' main security networks, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and nearly all the police stations are crushed beyond repair.

In some homes, families have been cleaning for five days straight, removing bullet casings, sweeping broken glass, sorting through charred clothing. Since electricity has been lost in most of those areas, the evenings see families gathered around makeshift fires outside, cooking and warming themselves.

In the neighborhood of Zeitoun, where 30 members of an extended family, the Samounis, were killed and homes were bulldozed, survivors can be seen each day using hoes and other crude tools on the piles of rubble and dirt — kitchen knives, electric sockets and a yellow plastic shopping basket all visible — hoping to salvage a few useful or valuable items.

The impression left from the worst-hit areas — generally places from which rocket fire had originated — was that Israeli troops entered expecting a horrific battle with Hamas. Little came their way, and Israel's casualty count was low. But the damage is overwhelming.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of children returned to schools across Gaza. In one classroom, signs with the names of three 14-year-old boys killed in the fighting were set on their desks. Their deskmates sat with stunned expressions next to the empty seats as the teacher encouraged the class to talk about their experiences.

"It's very hard when one used to see 30 students in class, and after what happened, I see 27," their teacher, Bassam Salha told the class at the U.N.'s Fakhoura Elementary school. "We lived three weeks in sadness. I want you students to help me to get out of the sad mood I am in now."

hed

George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, will come to Israel Wednesday for talks on keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast negotiations, an Israeli foreign ministry official said Saturday. It is the new administration's first direct move into Mideast peace efforts.

Mitchell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Israeli officials, and visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at their headquarters in the West Bank, the official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because there was no announcement from Washington.

4,000 Homes destroyed, according to several aid agencies

21,000 Homes badly damaged

100,000 People estimated to have been left homeless

fast facts

U.S. envoy coming

George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, will go to Israel Wednesday for talks on keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast negotiations, an Israeli foreign ministry official said Saturday. It is the new administration's first direct move into Mideast peace efforts. Mitchell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Israeli officials, and visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at their headquarters in the West Bank, the official said on condition of anonymity because there was no announcement from Washington.

By the numbers

4,000 Homes destroyed in Gaza, according to several aid agencies.

21,000 Homes badly damaged.

100,000 People estimated to have been left homeless.

A dazed Gaza picks up the pieces 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 10:28pm]

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