Truce reveals massive devastation in Gaza's Shujaya
Rubble from destroyed homes and deep explosion craters are what became of the neighborhood's streets
A Palestinian man screams from between heaping masses of rubble in Gaza City's devastated Shujaya neighborhood: "There's a body!"
The man sought the attention of Palestinian civil defense forces, who have just managed to enter the neighborhood Saturday morning amid a brief lull in an ongoing Israeli offensive.
A paramedic rushes to extract the body. "It's decomposed!" he yells through the shock of the sight. Three young men surround him, weeping. The body belongs to their uncle.
On Saturday morning, surviving residents and civil defense crews were able to access the Shujaya neighborhood for the first time since Sunday when Israeli artillery and warplanes relentlessly pummeled the district, leaving at least 77 Palestinians dead and hundreds of homes leveled to the ground.
Their access was only made possible after Palestinian resistance factions and Israel agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which has been reeling under an overwhelming Israeli military offensive since July 7.
The short lull, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00GMT), was declared after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to reach a week-long humanitarian pause in Israel's 20-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which has killed nearly 1000 Palestinians – mostly civilians.
Smell of death
Residents, rescuers and reporters struggled to grasp the extent of destruction in Shujaya, which the Israeli army said it shelled with 120 tonnes of explosives in an hours-long assault last Sunday.
Rubble from destroyed homes and deep explosion craters, strewn with battered electricity cables and blown up water supply pipes, are what became of the neighborhood's streets.
"If a renowned director wants to make a film that would leave millions in tears, he won't find a better place to shoot than here," a civil defense worker bitterly told reporters as he choked on dust arising from the ruins.
People walking through the neighborhood appeared as miniscule figures toiling over gigantic foothills of broken concrete and burned down trees.
Civil defense equipment could barely penetrate a few meters into the neighborhood's streets, which have become impossible to tell apart.
Ramy Abu Shanab, 48, observed the life he was forced to give up when he took his family and fled Shujaya as the Israeli shelling raged on.
All he found in the rubble that was once his home was a single red shoe that belongs to his son.
"This is all I could find from a four-storey building," Shanab said, likening the sight of rubble to the "aftermath of a massive hurricane."
"Smells of [Muslim Eid holiday] pastries were supposed to be emanating from these houses, instead of this smell of death," he continued.
A Thursday report by the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, a Geneva-based non-profit which has an office in Gaza, said that two thirds of homes have been destroyed in the Israeli shelling of Shujaya – home to some 100,000 Gazans according to latest Palestinian statistics.
It also noted that aid responders had failed to enter the town after they were prevented by the Israeli army.
Less than 72 hours after Israel sent thousands of ground troops into the embattled Palestinian territory last week - expanding an aerial/naval offensive - dozens of Israeli tanks and military vehicles forced their way into the eastern parts of Gaza City amid heavy artillery fire.
The intense shelling followed fierce ground battles between Palestinian resistance fighters and Israeli troops, which ultimately forced the latter to retreat.
The Israeli army confirmed later in the day that 13 of its troops had been killed in overnight clashes with Palestinian resistance fighters during ground operations in the Gaza Strip.
Graphic images taken from Shujaya in the shelling's immediate aftermath featured images of women's and children's bodies scattered around the neighborhood's streets, ostensibly killed while trying to escape indiscriminate strikes.
"No words can describe what Shujaya has gone through," a paramedic said as he searched for missing bodies in the rubble.
"Massacre," a nearby resident interjected.
"We're facing genocide," the paramedic went on to say.
Shujaya, one of the Gaza Strip's oldest neighborhoods, has been the primary hub for the whole spectrum of Palestinian factions, from the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as it remains the main stronghold of the latter two.
Launched with the stated aim of staunching rocket fire from Gaza, Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" is the self-proclaimed Jewish state's third major offensive against the densely-populated Gaza Strip, home to some 1.8 million Palestinians, within the last six years.
According to official Israeli figures, 40 Israelis – 37 soldiers and three civilians – have been killed since hostilities began.
In 2008/9, over 1500 Palestinians were killed – the vast majority of them civilians – during Israel's three-week-long "Operation Cast Lead."Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.