Palestinians in the war-stricken Gaza Strip are experiencing a second day of relative calm absent of Israeli attacks as a temporary pause in fighting holds.
After almost 50 days of constant Israeli bombardment that has killed nearly 15,000 Palestinians in the enclave, a four-day truce came into effect from early Friday and appeared to be proceeding unhindered on Saturday.
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But the United Nations said on Friday that “the 24 hours prior to the pause witnessed an intensification of Israeli strikes from air, land and sea” throughout Gaza.
The temporary truce has allowed the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza – where no place has proven safe in the past seven weeks – to experience their first night of sleep without the fear of being killed in an Israeli air raid.
It also provided some time for families to try to secure supplies of food and water, which have become scarce amid the unrelenting assault on the besieged enclave.
Some chose to go back to the northern parts of Gaza – which have seen the worst of the fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas – amid a ground invasion of the area by Israeli troops supported by heavy machinery and air strikes. Several Palestinians were killed on their way north as Israel ordered them to stay in the south.
Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Khan Younis in southern Gaza, said some Palestinians had a chance to visit surviving family members.
“It’s also an opportunity for those who lost loved ones and friends or family members to pay them respects and offer them a prayer, as funeral processions and proper burials were not permissible under heavy bombardment and relentless air strikes,” Mahmoud said.
More captives to be released
Palestinian journalist Ismail Abu Omar on Saturday shared a video – verified by Al Jazeera – that shows a man searching for his family’s clothes from under the rubble of their Gaza home, which was destroyed in the Israeli onslaught.
Palestinian photojournalist Magdi Fathi has documented the testimonies of several displaced women who say nothing is left of their homes in Khan Younis amid Israel’s bombardment of the enclave.
“I came to my house to take out some things, but I did not find anything. The Israeli army destroyed the place in a way that we did not expect,” said one woman, who was among the thousands who returned to their neighbourhoods after the start of the truce yesterday.
Another woman, a resident of Khuzaa in eastern Khan Younis, said she was “shocked” by what she found. “The destruction is very big,” she said.
Khan Younis is one of the southern cities where residents of northern Gaza were ordered by Israel to evacuate to, but it has been repeatedly attacked by Israeli forces.
As part of the truce, 24 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza were released on Friday, 13 of whom are Israelis. More are expected to be let go, as the Israeli prime minister’s office said it had received a list of captives to be released on Saturday. Reports indicate 42 Palestinians are expected to be released in exchange for 14 captives in Gaza.
Friday also saw the release of 39 Palestinian women and children who had been detained by Israel, some of them for years. They returned to their homes in the occupied West Bank.
During the four days of the pause, at least 50 people are expected to be freed by Hamas, leaving an estimated 190 captives in Gaza. In exchange, 150 Palestinians are expected to be released by Israel.
The truce, which could potentially be extended, allowed the first aid deliveries since the start of the war to arrive in northern Gaza.