Glass and debris littered the road to Ahed Marouf's house in a northern Gaza town on Monday as he rode on a donkey cart with his wife on three children to check on their home during a seven-hour truce declared by Israel.
What they saw when they reached Beit Lahiya, near the Israeli border, persuaded them to return to their temporary shelter in a U.N.-run school in nearby Jabalya refugee camp.
“It did not feel safe,” said Marouf, a 30-year-old farmer. “At our house, windows were shattered. There is no electricity and no water.”
Along with thousands of other residents, Marouf and his family fled Beit Lahiya - at Israel's urging - during fierce battles last week between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. Israel attacked from the air and ground while militants fired dozens of mortar bombs.
'Truce' called media stunt
Israel said the brief truce was intended to allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by an almost four-week-old war to go home. The Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, said the one-sided truce was an Israeli media stunt.
On the main road leading to Beit Lahiya, a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings that had housed hundreds of low-income families looked as if it had been peppered by tank fire, seemingly damaged beyond repair.
“Only a permanent cease-fire involving both sides would persuade us to go home to stay. For now, we remain in the U.N. school,” said Marouf's wife, Mervat, 23.
She said the war had gone on too long and complained she could not treat her children for flu and stomach pains at local hospitals because they have been overwhelmed by wounded from Israeli bombardments.
In Gaza City, dozens of people lined up outside banks and automatic teller machines to withdraw cash.
Others packed into grocery stores during the cease-fire, which Palestinians accused Israel of violating in a bomb attack they said killed an eight-year-old girl and wounded 29 other people in a Gaza refugee camp.
“Destruction is all over Gaza,” Mervat Marouf said. “We come in sadness. We go in sadness.”