Tom Little, AFP
Last updated: 7 August, 2014

Residents of devastated Gaza sector wary as truce nears end

Sat on a dusty rug outside the ruins of their home in Gaza’s devastated Shejaiya, the Habib family was pessimistic a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions would be extended.

Their neighbourhood was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting and bombardment during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge before it was halted by a fragile, 72-hour ceasefire between the two sides.

Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo Thursday appeared to be making little headway as Israeli and Palestinian delegations seemed unwilling to yield to key demands from the other side.

“Most of the time, we don’t trust Israel. It can say today that there is a truce and it can change its mind the next day,” said Naji al-Habib, the night before the humanitarian truce was due to expire.

Most of the squat, two-story concrete homes on Shejaiya’s Habib Street – named after Naji’s family – were destroyed in shelling on July 30. Piles of rubble block the road, with twisted wires protruding from the collapsed buildings, and above, the nasal whine of Israeli drones.

The 35-year-old labourer, his hair flecked with grey, sits glumly smoking with his cousins in front of his own battered home, which he shared with his wife, four children and his brother’s family, before it was gutted in the bombardment.

– Strewn debris –

“We want a truce based on a correct foundation in order to let everybody live in peace,” he says.

Picking his way across the debris strewn across the street, he points out the crumpled heap of concrete that used to be the Atta al-Habib health centre, serving the area’s residents.

Bending down, he scoops up a pile of crumpled documents. One is a case file for a resident who lived nearby, another a report from a patient who was complaining of back pain.

“Why did they target this? This was a health centre, for treating people,” he says, insisting there were no militants in the area.

Naji’s sister was killed in the neighbourhood when a shell from a tank crashed through the roof of her bedroom, he says, pointing out the four-storey building with a neat hole in the top corner.

– ‘We want to live’ –

Naji’s cousin Musab, 47, who lived on the street before he fled the shelling, was also sceptical there would be an extension in the lull in the fighting in Gaza. He, his wife and children spend their nights in a UN school in the Tel al-Hawa area of the enclave.

The men of the family return during the day to protect their property on Habib Street – or what remains of it – waiting for a lasting truce to return.

“If there is a truce, we will return to our house permanently,” he says. “But the infrastructure was completely destroyed, there is no electricity, no water.”

For the meantime, he will return to spend his nights in the crowded school where he has sought shelter, as he waits for news on the talks in Cairo.

Nearby, sitting under a makeshift tent made from canvas, Sami al-Khaissi sits with his brothers and cousins. Like the Habibs, he is sheltering in a school outside of Shejaiya and has returned for the day, weary of the fighting.

He is scared the truce won’t hold, he says, but “only for our children and women”.

Turning at the shell-pocked, charred house he lived in, he asks: “Where are we supposed to bring them?”

“We want a truce, we want to live, we want to build in order to live here again,” he says.