Palestinians Return to an Unrecognizable City After Israelis Withdraw

The withdrawal of Israeli ground troops from southern Gaza over the weekend allowed some Palestinians to return to the city of Khan Younis and check on their homes. But in the aftermath of a fierce, monthslong battle and Israeli bombings, some found only destruction.

“When I saw the scene I couldn’t handle it,” said Dr. Ahmad al-Farra, who went back on Sunday to find his family’s three-story villa reduced to a pile of rubble, surrounded by the few trees that were left standing in what was once a lush garden.

“I completely collapsed and nearly fainted,” he said in a phone call on Monday, adding that his wife and two teenage daughters burst into tears when they saw what was left of their home.

“I worked for 20 years to build this house,” said Dr. al-Farra, 54, who ran the pediatric ward at Nasser Hospital before the family fled south to Rafah in January. “You build a home corner by corner, stone by stone.”

“And in the end,” he added, “with a press of a button, it is reduced to rubble.”

The rest of Khan Younis was “unrecognizable,” Dr. al-Farra said. Most buildings and homes were completely demolished, partially destroyed or burned, and the streets had been bulldozed. “Khan Younis was annihilated like it’s World War II or even worse,” he said.

Dr. al-Farra said “many, many people” had returned to Khan Younis on Sunday. He soon realized that staying at his home was not a possibility. But like many other Gazans sheltering in Rafah, he said that he soon planned to move his family’s tent to somewhere in Khan Younis. He and others fear Israel’s pledge to send ground troops into Rafah in pursuit of Hamas’s leaders and fighters, an invasion that many believe will come after the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week.

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