News / Middle East

Gaza Town, Once a Draw for Visitors, Reduced to Rubble

Palestinians search the rubble to collect what they can from their family destroyed houses, hit by Israeli strikes in Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 5, 2014.
Palestinians search the rubble to collect what they can from their family destroyed houses, hit by Israeli strikes in Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 5, 2014.

With its spacious villas and palm-lined streets, the town of Khuzaa in southern Gaza gave Palestinians a rare place to spend their free time before it was bombed and shelled to rubble last month.

Largely free of the local tensions and feuds found in other neighborhoods, Khuzaa's green spaces were one of just a few destinations for daytrips in the crowded Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million people live in just 360 square kilometers (140 square miles).

Around 500 meters from the Israeli border, Khuzaa is now only accessible via cratered roads strewn with debris. Nearly all of its homes have been flattened and its nine mosques lie in pieces.

“This was the best area in all of the Gaza Strip, it was a tourist area - secure and safe with no problems and good people,” said Sami Qudih, head of Khuzaa's municipal council.

'No longer exists'

“Khuzaa no longer exists, it is like an earthquake hit,” he said in a makeshift office - a garage next to his destroyed family home.

“We have no water, no electricity, I have been wearing these same clothes for 10 days,” he said, tugging his filthy flannel shirt. “I have no house, I have no Hamas, I have no jihad. I am a citizen, that is it and now I have nothing.”

Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards negotiations on ending the month-old war.

Gaza officials say the conflict has killed 1,874 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.

In Khuzaa, people say at least 70 were killed and more bodies may lie beneath the rubble. It was a site of fierce fighting between Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian militants, who said they detonated explosives and fired anti-tank rockets at Israeli troops.

Israel says it urged residents to leave and seek shelter in nearby Khan Younis before the fighting in Khuzaa began. But residents have said many were not able to leave their houses in time and that some were fired on as they fled upon army's instructions.

Citing residents, Human Rights Watch said on Monday Israeli forces fired on and killed civilians in the town between July 23 to 25, actions which it said if proven, would be war crimes.

Homes destroyed

A once affluent town in a fertile farming area, many of Khuzaa's residents owned land and property, unlike in other parts of the Gaza Strip where people rent or live in camps and temporary shelters.

Now thousands of people from Khuzaa are living in aid shelters in schools and return only to check the damage or gather any belongings they can salvage.

Some 260,000 people are sheltering in U.N. facilities in Gaza and human rights groups put the total number of displaced at 520,000.

After fleeing the violence, Ahmed Awad Abu Salah, 39, returned with his wife, Fariah, to find their home mostly intact but ransacked and littered with tins of food with Hebrew labels they said were left behind by Israeli soldiers.

They found children's clothes and books strewn across the floor, kitchen fittings hanging from the walls and the family's Koran in the toilet. The walls of the once elegant living room are peppered with bullet holes.

“This was once the beautiful garden, there was a fountain, a nice place,” Ahmed said, pointing to a patch of grass covered in crumbling concrete and twisted metal. The date palms planted eight years ago lean at crazy angles.

“Look - they destroyed them one by one,” his wife said, pointing to mounds of debris where homes once stood.

Israel blames Hamas for drawing strikes

Israel has accused Hamas of causing hardship by launching rockets at its cities from Gaza neighborhoods and using mosques and schools as arms depots, thereby drawing Israeli strikes.

With nowhere else to go in Khuzaa, groups of men and boys perch on rubble under trees and cook tea and coffee on open fires. A woman stumbles across mounds of debris, holding a teapot lid she unearthed from the remains of her home. Children run around rotting trash, kicking up the dust.

“This was the best town in all of Gaza, a wealthy area where people lived well together. Now I have no words to describe it,” 54-year-old Mohammed Khalil Najjar said, his voice faltering.

He pointed out his house across the road, a series of floors flattened together and leaning at an angle. He rebuilt the house in 2009 after it was one of the few badly damaged during that Gaza conflict. “I cannot build it again. That's it,” he said.

Gaza officials say it will cost around $6 billion to rebuild devastated infrastructure across the territory.

Qudih, the head of Khuzaa's council, now spends his days driving around in a pickup truck, making sure roads are cleared and that people have water brought in from the next town. He smiles briefly when remembering the kind of town he used to run.

“I have worked in many different places in this region and Khuzaa is different, it is beautiful and safe,” he said, before correcting himself: “It was safe.”

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Muhamad the Idiot from: Turkey
August 07, 2014 1:47 PM
well, that is indisputably a victory to the Jihadis and the Philistines and Al Nusra and Al qaida... clearly... no? LOL

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs