By Arafat Barbakh and Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Carting heavy cans of water through muddy streets, searching mounds of rubble for clothes, mourning lost relatives and homes – Gazans reprieved from Israeli bombardment during the truce with Hamas were still facing the daily hardships of war.
At a water station in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, people filled plastic containers and lugged them to homes or shelters using carts pulled by donkeys or by hand, bicycles, a shopping trolley, a wheelbarrow, even a wheelchair.
“The struggle for water happens daily, since we were first displaced until now. Even during the ceasefire, they didn’t find a solution to the water problem,” said Rami al-Rizek, displaced with his family from their home in Gaza City.
Now in its fifth day, the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas has allowed an increased number of aid trucks to enter Gaza from Egypt, but the humanitarian needs are so immense that many Gazans have felt little or no impact.
“Whether there is a truce or not, we still have no electricity, no water, and none of life’s basic necessities,” said Muath Hamdan, another man waiting at the water station.
It had rained, and a steady stream of children and adults trudged through mud and puddles in sandals and flip flops on their way to the water station. The quest for water was the main activity that could be seen on the streets.
In a different area of Khan Younis, Maryam Abu Rjaileh had returned to her home, reduced to rubble by an Israeli air strike, to search for clothes for her children. The family are now sheltering at a school, in a classroom shared with many others.
“We see our homes getting destroyed, our dreams getting destroyed, we see the efforts we put into our homes all destroyed,” said Abu Rjaileh.
“How can I describe our situation? They gave us a four-day truce, what are these four days? We come here, feel sorry for ourselves and turn back.”
In another part of town, Yasser Abu Shamaleh paced over the pile of debris that used to be a block where many of his relatives lived. He said more than 30 of them had been killed – his parents, sisters and brothers, nieces, nephews and cousins.
“Two things made me come to this area. First, my cousin is still under the rubble and no-one has been able to get him out. Second, my painful memories,” he said.
Abu Shamaleh, who said he survived because he, his wife and their five children live in a different building, picked up chunks of concrete and tossed them aside. A rag doll could be seen in the rubble.
“As much as you try to retrieve things, it’s useless. We need machinery and tools to get things out,” he said.
“The truce is the time to lift the rubble and search for all the missing people and bury them. We honour the dead by burying them. What use is the truce if the bodies remain under the rubble?” he said.
The war began when militants from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, including babies and children, and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli figures.
Israel responded with aerial bombardment and a ground assault on Gaza, killing more than 15,000 people, around 40% of them children, according to Gazan health officials.
Another Khan Younis resident, Ahmed al-Najjar, said of the truce: “Four days are not enough, and forty days are not enough, and four years will not be enough to get over the pain.”
(Additional reporting by Bassam Masoud, Fadi Shana and Mohammed Salem; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)