Tens of thousands of people across Gaza have returned to their homes as a tenuous ceasefire held and hopes rose of an end to the month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Local officials and humanitarian workers began to inspect the damage the war had caused in the overcrowded enclave, with initial assessments indicating earlier estimates may have been optimistic.
In Gaza City, which has a population of half a million, between 20 and 25% of the housing stock has been damaged, said Nihad al-Mughni, head of the engineering department.
Mohammed al-Kafarna, the mayor of Beit Hanoun, a northern town which saw fierce fighting and heavy bombardment, said 70% of homes were “uninhabitable”.
“Basically the town is unliveable. There is no power, water or communications. There are not the basics for life,” he said.
In Shawkat, a neighbourhood of Rafah city in the south which saw heavy fighting after an earlier ceasefire collapsed within hours, 300 out of 2000 houses had been destroyed, along with the town hall.
“You can’t imagine the destruction,” said Adel Lubda, the chief council engineer.
Previous estimates of 65,000 rendered homeless in Gaza now look conservative. In Beit Hanoun alone, around 30,000 people will have to be rehoused. The town is just one of around a dozen communities lying in the three kilometre “free fire zone” declared by Israeli troops during the most intense period of fighting to have been devastated.
Gaza has a population of 1.8 million and already suffered from a chronic shortage of housing before this latest conflict, the third in six years between Hamas and Israel.
On Monday, the United Nations called the level of destruction “unprecedented.”
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza continued until the ceasefire agreed late on Sunday evening by Hamas under heavy Egyptian pressure came into effect. Israeli military officials said they had attacked “terrorist targets”. Around 20 people have been killed since the previous truce expired on Friday. More than 1,900 Palestinians have died, mostly civilians, in the war.
Militant factions allied to Hamas fired mid-range rockets and mortars into Israel over the weekend. More than 3,000 rockets have now been launched from Gaza in recent weeks, killing three in Israel. Sixty four Israeli soldiers were killed.
Humanitarian agencies say so far they have been restricted to “firefighting”. Nadia Dibsy, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said it had been impossible to properly assess the overall magnitude of the damage.
North of Beit Lahia on Monday, people picked through the ruins of a series of apartment blocks facing the border with Israel, which have been almost totally destroyed.
Ibrahim Jassa, 33, said he had been “completely ruined.”
“I have nothing, except seven children. No job, no home, just the clothes we were wearing when we left,” the unemployed labourer said.
Sabr al-Gharboui said three apartments she had shared with her sons had all been reduced to rubble. “I have no idea what we will do. We just hope the ceasefire will hold. But what happens next? That’s what worried us,” the 53-year-old said.
Though local electricity engineers were hopeful of restoring power supply to its pre-war levels of six to 10 hours a day to some areas, it may take years to recommission Gaza’s only power station, which was destroyed on 29 July. Pumping stations, power transmission networks and water pipes have all been badly damaged. One major sewage outflow pipe, serving nearly half a million people, has been severed. Huge quantities of raw sewage are flowing into the sea or onto fields.
“Access to clean water has always been a challenge. Now it is a scarcity,” said Dibsy of the ICRC.
More than 200,000 remain in UN-run shelters, afraid or unable to return home, with many more staying with relatives. Food prices have risen sharply since the start of the war as fields are inaccessible or full of unexploded ordnance and farms have been badly damaged.
But shops and markets across Gaza were busy on Monday, with restaurants opening for the first time for a month.
The lack of a definitive end to hostilities will mean crucial material needed for reconstruction cannot enter Gaza. The import of cement and other construction materials is a particularly contentious issue as Israel believes Hamas will use it to build cross-border tunnels which threaten its security. More than 30 such tunnels were destroyed during the conflict, Israel has said.
Health provision in Gaza has been particularly badly hit. Ten out of 26 hospitals, comprising 40% of total beds in Gaza, have been shut, officials said, and only a handful reopened.
In Beit Hanoun, the 60-bed hospital was shut after being hit by shell fire. On Monday, staff swept glass away as they prepared to open a five-bed emergency ward.The hospital had dealt with 348 dead or injured before being closed and was now short of all basic medical supplies, said Dr Ayman Hamdian, the director.
Israel says such supplies can reach Gaza despite the blockade imposed since 2006 and tightened in 2007. Lifting this blockade is a key demand of Hamas.
The concession Hamas most want from Israel, officials from the group have told the Guardian, is the right to build a port and airport in Gaza – facilities promised to the Palestinians under the Oslo peace deal but currently ruled out by Israel as a potential security threat.
Israel has demanded that Hamas disarm, which the Islamist organisation has said is “out of the question”.
Scores of victims of this most recent conflict are still being treated in the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. They include Yasmin al-Bakri, 11, and her sister Hanin, 9, who were seriously injured when their family tried to flee intense shelling of their neighbourhood in Shuja’iyeh. Five family members, including their mother and two sisters, were killed.
The older of the two girls will recover from 15% burns and a fractured arm, doctors said. Hanin, however, has head injuries, facial burns and may lose her hand.
Another woman, whose seven-year old niece is now paralysed from the neck down, said she welcomed the ceasefire.
“There has been enough killing,” said Umm Ibrahim.
Trump supporters linked to Steve Bannon pushing ‘fantastical rumors’ to try to ‘pizzagate’ Joe Biden: report
NBC News on Thursday published a blockbuster report on efforts to smear former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Some of the same people who pushed a false conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that first emerged in 2016 are now targeting Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, with similar falsehoods. Their online posts are garnering astronomical numbers of shares on social media," NBC News correspondents Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny reported Thursday.
"The fantastical rumors, which NBC News is declining to repeat verbatim, echo specific plot points central to 'pizzagate,' a viral disinformation campaign that predates QAnon but also falsely alleges a vast conspiracy of child abuse," NBC News explained. "There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates."
Pennsylvania AG warns Trump campaign poll watchers to stop videotaping voters
On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that the attorney general of Pennsylvania is warning Trump campaign surrogates to stop videotaping voters dropping off mail-in ballots.
"In a statement, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic state attorney general, said, 'Pennsylvania law permits poll watchers to carry out very discrete and specific duties — videotaping voters at drop boxes is not one of them,'" reported Blake Montgomery.
"The campaign has filed complaints with Philadelphia officials based on the videos, alleging fraud on the part of several voters who submitted two or three ballots, according to The New York Times," continued the report. "The Trump campaign initially said the purpose of the videotaping was to catch voters who dropped off a large number of fraudulent ballots rather than one or two, according to the Times."
GOP candidate attacks opponent with racist website about his adviser working for ‘non-white males’
The 2020 campaign cycle continues to get uglier with a North Carolina Republican making explicitly racist attacks on his Democratic Party opponent.
"Anew attack website put up by the Madison Cawthorn campaign includes an explicitly racist broadside against his opponent, Moe Davis (D-NC), for associating himself with people who want to 'ruin white males.' For real," Tim Miller of The Bulwark reported Thursday.
"The website, MoeTaxes.com takes aim at Davis over one of his advisors Tom Fielder. It says that Fielder 'quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker who aims to ruin white males.' Putting the atrocious syntax aside… Quitting one’s job to work for someone who isn’t white is . . . a problem now? Booker’s blackness is the issue that offends you?" Miller asked. "In Donald Trump’s white grievance party, apparently so."