As the Gaza ceasefire went into effect early Friday morning, Palestinians across the Gaza Strip prepared to return to the homes they fled to see if they were still intact, to check on relatives they had fled. had been left behind and, in some cases, to finally bury their relatives. dead.
The skies over the besieged territory were free of Israeli warplanes for the first day in seven weeks, a brief respite from what has been one of the most intense bombing raids of the 21st century. But when some tried to return to northern Gaza on foot from parts further south on foot, Israeli forces on the ground opened fire on them, according to witnesses, an Egyptian official and some of the wounded.
The Israeli military did not answer questions about whether its forces shot and killed Palestinians trying to return to their homes. But it said its forces were “stationed along the designated operational lines of the pause” in accordance with the agreement.
Before the ceasefire, Israel had warned Gazans which would prohibit them from attempting to move from southern Gaza to the north during the cessation of hostilities.
For Gazans, not being able to return to their homes even temporarily during a lull in fighting fueled their fears that Israel plans to permanently displace them, as happened in 1948 during the war surrounding Israel’s creation.
“The displacement of parts of Gaza’s civilian population is permitted only if necessary for the safety of civilians or for compelling military reasons,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “Civilians must be able to return as soon as possible; permanent displacement is a war crime.”
Israeli forces invaded Gaza weeks ago and ordered residents of northern Gaza to move to the south of the small territory. The Israeli army now occupies much of the northern half of the strip, and around 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents have been forced to flee their homes. The displaced are taking refuge in schools, mosques, hospitals or with family and friends.
On Friday morning, Kareem al-Nasir, 30, joined thousands of other Palestinians trying to return from central Gaza to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip. But as they tried to advance along a road on foot, he said, nearby Israeli forces opened fire on them. Al-Nasir said that he was shot in the leg and that now he cannot walk.
An Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, described the same scene and said an Israeli tank fired on a group of Palestinians at an Israeli checkpoint south of Gaza City on Friday morning and killed two people. .
“They said there is a ceasefire. “What ceasefire?” said al-Nasir, back at school in Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, where he and his family have been seeking refuge since fleeing their home in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. . “When we tried to pass, they shot us, wounded us and killed us,” he added.
“People wanted to return to their homes,” al-Nasir said. “We wanted to go see our relatives, see the martyrs, see our homes.”
Video released by local journalists in Gaza showed hundreds of Palestinians carrying bags and bedding and walking along the roads of the southern city of Khan Younis heading to homes in other parts of southern Gaza, at least temporarily.
Some were still trying to decide if they could make the trip safely.
Nayrouz Qarmout, a Palestinian author from Gaza City in the north, said she fled with her family to southern Gaza weeks ago. She said they had been trying to find out if they could return.
“But as far as we know, entering the area is prohibited,” he said.
Even those who know their homes have been destroyed by Israeli airstrikes want to return to see what they can find or salvage from the rubble, he said.
“People are trying to see what’s left of their homes or their families,” Qarmout said. “They don’t know anything about what happened to their relatives after they lost all contact with them.”
Communication in Gaza has been difficult since the early days of the war, after Israel bombed a telecommunications tower; It has at times been mired in near-total telephone and Internet blackouts, either due to Israeli disruptions or a lack of fuel.
The ceasefire agreement requires that more aid be allowed into Gaza. In addition to its devastating bombings, Israel has also imposed a near-total siege on Gaza since the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that controls the territory. This has severely restricted deliveries of food, fuel and medicine, worsening a humanitarian crisis for the pre-war population.
A total of 230 trucks carrying humanitarian aid, medicine and fuel were scheduled to cross the Egyptian border on Friday, said Wael Abu Omar, spokesman for the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing.
“No one feels safe,” said Mohammad al-Masri, a local journalist who fled his home in northern Gaza to Khan Younis last week.
“I haven’t heard anyone say they will come home. “Everyone is afraid,” she stated. “Because any movement could disrupt the ceasefire.”
Vivian Yee contributed with reports.