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Families from north Gaza return home to scenes of devastation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Israeli troops withdrew from the Jabalya refugee camp in north Gaza last week. The three-week offensive forced tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee. As Hadeel Al-Shalchi reports, some are now returning to see what's become of their homes. And a warning - this story includes graphic descriptions of the aftermath of war.

AMIN ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Amin Abed is from Jabalya, a place once densely populated and that saw some of the fiercest fighting during the war.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: He says the attacks were intensely horrific, with shelling, bombs and snipers, so Abed packed up his family and fled west. And after weeks of displacement, it was time to go back home to Jabalya last week.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "I walked on foot half of the way home," he says. "Then I found a donkey cart and rode it the rest of the way."

But Abed didn't find much there.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "The scene was frightening," he says. "My house was rubble, the doors and windows blown out."

And Abed says the neighborhood was terrifying.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: The corpses he saw on the street were charred, he says, being eaten by dogs.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "I personally had to collect the remains of my uncle and cousin in a bag," he says.

Their bodies were burned by the sun. The Israeli military is expanding its operations across Gaza, and Palestinians say they feel like nowhere is safe.

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "It was a miracle we were able to escape," Abed says.

The Israeli military went back to Jabalya four months after originally withdrawing. It said Hamas had regrouped there. In that same mission, the military said that it had recovered the bodies of seven hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. With more than one operation in Jabalya so far, Abed says, who knows if there won't be another?

ABED: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "Of course we're afraid of another attack," he says. "Israeli military believes that a good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian."

Hadeel Al-Shalchi, NPR News, Ramallah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCUS MUMFORD AND TOM HOWE'S "NIGHTINGALE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.
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