Hundreds of Palestinians tried to return Sunday to their homes in destroyed neighborhoods northwest of Gaza City. Taken aback by the devastation, many went back to U.N. emergency shelters after retrieving clothes and blankets from the rubble. At least 35 bodies were recovered in the two neighborhoods by late Sunday afternoon, local health officials said.
Residents stumbled down streets strewn with demolished vehicles and chunks of collapsed buildings. Some people mumbled to themselves or simply stared at the places where they had once lived. Others stood in place and cried.
Israeli soldiers had withdrawn early Sunday from the area, residents said. Inside homes where soldiers had been staying, furniture and computers were smashed and Hebrew slogans were scrawled on the walls. Israeli jets periodically passed overhead, loud and low, causing those in the streets to scatter or drop to the ground.
Khadija Saker, 55, and six relatives returned to find their three-story house in ruins. She had fled at the start of the ground invasion, when her husband was wounded by an Israeli shell, she said.
"Thirty years of work we put into this home is gone," Saker said. Her fruit trees out back had been bulldozed. "We thought we'd be safe because my sons were not Hamas. We are peaceful, not activists at all. Why would they do this?"
Her cousin, Yusef Saker, shook his head. "We will need 20 years to undo what 20 days of war did," he said.