Gaza City – Nearly 25 percent of Gaza’s total population – approximately 475,000 people – have been displaced by the ongoing Israeli military offensive, and have been forced to stay with relatives or move to shelters, according to the United Nations.
Most shelters across the besieged strip are housing more than 2,800 internally-displaced persons, though these shelters only have space to accommodate 500 people.
The Israeli army announced on Saturday that residents of certain areas in northern Gaza could safely go back to their homes as it was scaling back its military ground operations in the area.
But many Gazans remain reluctant to return back home. Ahmed Abu Halima and his family received the news that they could return to their home in northern Gaza with mixed feelings of both joy and worry.
But on Sunday morning, the 46-year-old father of nine took his wife and children back to Beit Lahiya to survey the damage.
“I was happy, but doubtful. I won’t believe in such tactics until I see an official declaration that war is over, then I will move to my home,” Abu Halima told Al Jazeera while on his way back to Gaza City, after spending only two hours in Beit Lahiya.
I was happy but doubtful. I won't believe in such tactics until I see an official declaration that war is over, then I will move to my home.
“I miss my home. No place is like it, but our life is more important… We have been displaced at schools for more than 20 days, so let’s wait and see for one or two more days,” said Abu Halima, explaining that he would stay in a United Nations-run shelter in Gaza City until the war is officially over.
Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 1,762 Palestinians and injured over 9,200 others. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also been killed, along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.
Many people went to the areas in northern Gaza following the reported withdrawal of ground troops, but the lack of official announcement from the local authorities here made them reluctant to stay.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said on Saturday that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Beit Lahiya “will not bind the resistance [to] anything”.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Beit Lahiya, said the Israeli army’s ground presence “seems to be easing off to a large degree but what we are seeing a lot of is air strikes”.
“I have heard consistent sound of artillery shelling in Beit Lahiya, not far from Gaza City,” he said, adding: “So it would appear that although Israel publicly said it will start scaling back the ground operation, it is clearly continuing.”
Overnight on Sunday, several deadly Israeli air strikes were reported in northern Gaza Strip, including a strike that killed three people from the Sherafy family and another that killed six people sheltering in two homes in Jabaliya. Meanwhile, in southern Gaza, an Israeli strike on a UN school in Rafah killed at least 10 people.
Meanwhile, shelters in Gaza City remained packed with people. “Even if the war is over, I will remain here,” said Abu Iyad Al-Sultan, whose family was now sheltering at Rimal elementary school in Gaza City.
Al-Sultan’s home in Beit Lahiya, which housed 15 members of his family, was destroyed by Israeli shelling and became unliveable.