About 1 000 Palestinians who were stranded outside the Gaza Strip when war broke out between Israel and Hamas have returned home during the seven-day truce, braving the prospect of renewed bombardment, a Palestinian border official said on Thursday.
At the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, yellow taxis with suitcases and cardboard boxes piled high on their roofs and trunks so full of luggage they could not be closed were carrying Palestinians back into their ravaged homeland.
One of them was Abu Nader, who said he had travelled to Turkey on October 4 to accompany one of his daughters who was starting her studies there.
Abu Nader flew to Egypt on October 24 but could not return to Gaza as the Rafah crossing was closed.
He found himself stuck in Egypt until the truce.
He said his house in the al-Nasser neighbourhood in Gaza City had been destroyed by an Israeli strike and he had lost relatives, but was nevertheless desperate to get home to be with his other children and the rest of his family.
“No one leaves their children or their country, even if they lose their house. All Palestine is my home, not just Gaza or the house in al-Nasser, the whole nation is my home,” he said.
Egypt had announced via the Palestinian embassy in Cairo on November 23, the day before the truce came into effect, that Palestinians wishing to return to Gaza would be allowed, though not compelled, to do so.
The border official who spoke to Reuters on Thursday said crossings had begun on November 24 and had carried on since then.
The returnees will find a very different Gaza from the one they left behind.
Much of the northern half of the Strip, including Gaza City, has been blasted into a moonscape by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, while in the south hundreds of thousands of displaced people are sheltering in tents and schools.
Hospitals have stopped functioning, food, water and fuel are scarce, and diseases are spreading in what the United Nations has called a humanitarian catastrophe.
Despite all that, Intisar Barakat said she still wanted to return.
“You can’t leave your country, your children, your home, your husband,” she said. “God willing, may everyone come back and peace prevail.”
The truce was initially agreed for four days but has repeatedly been renewed, for 24 to 48 hours at a time.
Mediators were pressing on with attempts on Thursday to extend it further.
The war was triggered by Hamas who rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, killing 1 200 people including babies and children and taking 240 hostages of all ages, according to Israeli numbers.
Vowing to destroy Hamas in response, Israel launched an air, sea and ground assault on the densely populated Gaza Strip that has killed more than 15 000 people, 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health officials.