Gazans trying to return to ruined homes met with Israeli gunfire and sound bombs

After six months of war, hunger and displacement, people in Gaza contend with rumours and conflicting information

Displaced Palestinians take the coastal Rashid road to return to Gaza city as they pass through Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday. AFP
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Scores of Palestinians were gathered at a checkpoint on Sunday morning, a bottleneck where Israel has cut the Gaza Strip in two.

It was an impulsive move by displaced people, who have trudged for miles through the ruins in an attempt to return to their homes after hearing that others had successfully crossed the checkpoint that now divides north and south.

But it turned out their arduous journey was based on nothing but rumour and en route the group was met by Israeli grenades and live fire, killing a young girl and injuring several other people.

The Israel army on Sunday confirmed "the northern area of the Gaza Strip is still a combat zone and it will not be possible to return to it".

As ever in war – which has killed more than 33,700 in Gaza and left up to 70 per cent of housing damaged or in ruins – uncertainty reigns supreme for residents.

Famine is edging closer in many areas across the strip, with aid trickling into the north plagued by distribution challenges. In the south, overcrowding is rife in displacement camps and buildings where people have fled. Some Palestinians have been forced to move on several times in little more than six months of war.

"Since I heard the news about people starting to return to the north, I went to check if it was true," Ahmed Hussain, 40, told The National.

Mr Hussain, currently living in Deir Al Balah in the centre of Gaza, hoped to return to his partially destroyed home in the north.

"In reality, we have not received any formal decision from any party regarding allowing people to return; all that is happening is people making their own decision.

"I hope we can cross and return, it is a dream for us now."

Allowing Palestinians to move back northwards from overcrowded areas in the south has been a key demand of Hamas, but Israel has outlined several conditions on such returns and talks are currently stalled.

The army reportedly does not permit the return of residents either through Salah Al Din, one of the main roads in the strip, or through Rashid Street by the seafront, although many Palestinians walked the coastal road on Sunday.

Sami Ali, also languishing in Deir Al Balah, said a friend had received a call from the Israeli army telling him he could return to Gaza city.

"My friend, who owns a bakery in Gaza, received a phone call from the Israeli army and was informed that he could go back to the north of the Gaza Strip," Mr Ali told The National. "However, he refused to go because he is afraid and uncertain about the call."

Mr Ali said the following morning, there was word that women and children had succeeded in crossing. "We are waiting to hear from them if they have reached the north – or not yet."

According to a witness from the northern side of the checkpoint on Rashid Street, the Israeli army fired sound bombs towards people who had gathered there to cross, in an attempt to disperse them.

However, the crowds persisted. Witnesses on the southern said say Israeli forces attempted to disperse people by firing towards them, killing the young girl and injuring several people nearby.

Queuing for bread

Elsewhere in Gaza, with co-operation with the World Food Programme a number of bakeries in Gaza reopened for business on Sunday morning.

People waited in line to buy bread packets for five shekels apiece (about $1.33).

"I can't believe that the bakery near my neighbourhood has reopened," Mohssin Al Shobaki, 46, from Al Sahaba in Gaza city, told The National. "After six months, we will have bread again."

"I waited for three hours until I managed to buy a bread packet," he said. He was still at his home in Gaza city with seven family members and expressed his happiness at being able to return to his family with the bread.

Mohammed Al Zird, 28, expressed his joy at the return of something close to normality in Gaza and his anticipation of returning to his mother with bread.

"We love life and appreciate anything that can help us return to our normal routine," he told The National.

"I waited for four hours to obtain a packet of bread. I have been dreaming of this moment for months."

He said his parents are elderly and he struggles to secure decent food for them after weeks where barely enough aid has entered Gaza, while market food prices are beyond the reach of many.

Updated: April 14, 2024, 8:12 PM