In Gaza, Palestinians return to a shelter scarred by war

By Mahmoud Issa

JABALIA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Palestinian Umm Mohammed Khrouat says she would rather live in a tent than the school where she is forced to shelter with her five children in northern Gaza, so bad are the conditions after nearly eight months of war.

"There is no hygiene, or water," said Umm Mohammed, baking bread in a makeshift oven at the school in Jabalia refugee camp, a recent theatre of Israeli military operations in the war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Her family, which fled their home in nearby Beit Hanoun early in the war, have been forced to flee the school multiple times, most recently last month when Israeli forces renewed operations in the area, Umm Mohammed said.

She said they fled according to Israeli orders.

"We have no other choice. They say it is a safe area, but no area is safe," she said. "The situation is difficult, I wish they would (let us) return to Beit Hanoun. We would return to Beit Hanoun and live in tents."

Israel has laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip since Hamas attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and abducting about another 250, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's retaliatory offensive, according to Gaza health officials.

Israel declared an end to its most recent operation in Jabalia on May 31, saying the military had destroyed 10 km (6.2 miles) of tunnels and several weapons production sites in days of fighting that included more than 200 airstrikes.

During the operation, troops also located the bodies of seven hostages, Israel said.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), has described images from Jabalia as horrific. Thousands of displaced people had no choice but to live amid the rubble and in destroyed UNRWA facilities, he said in a June 1 post on X.

Umm Mohammed's family returned to find a scene of destruction at the school, the walls of which were blackened by fire

"The children’s clothes were burnt. There is nothing. Everything was burnt. The cement ... has melted," her husband, Bilal Khrouat, said at the school, where he said 15 families were living in one room.

He is desperate for potable water.

"I have one kidney. What should we do?" he said. "The water is not enough for drinking, food (cooking) or bathing."

"There is nothing left. We couldn’t stay in Beit Hanoun, we couldn’t stay in Jabalia camp, and we couldn’t stay in Gaza (city). There is no shelter. There is nothing, where should we go?" he said.

(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Timothy Heritage)