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MID: Gazans survey damage after three weeks of war

By Adel Zaanoun
18 Jan 2009 11:03 PM

GAZA CITY, Jan 18 AFP - As Hamas congratulated Palestinians on their "victory" from mosque loudspeakers on Sunday, shell-shocked residents surveyed the debris of the deadliest offensive ever launched by Israel on Gaza.

"We congratulate all the Palestinian people after the victory in the fight with the enemy," bellowed a voice from a Hamas mosque in central Gaza City.

Yahia Karin, a 54-year-old resident of city's southern neighbourhood of Zeitun, found little to cheer about - his home was reduced to rubble during the 22-day Israeli offensive which killed at least 1,300 Palestinians.

"I came to see my home, but as you can see, there is no home here anymore," Karin said, pointing to the charred ruins of his residence.

Some of the heaviest clashes between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters occurred in his neighbourhood - and the scars of war are everywhere to be seen.

Surrounding buildings are marked by charred traces of tank shells while black car carcasses line a street pockmarked by huge gaping holes.

"Everything has been completely destroyed," said Karin amid piles of dusty rubble and twisted metal.

"I ask (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert - why did you destroy my home? I'm not Hamas, I'm not in any faction. I'm a civilian. I want peace," he said, choked by emotion.

"It's a massacre not only against our people, but also against our homes. I pray to Allah to destroy the Jews."

Karin was one of thousands of Gazans who took advantage of a unilateral ceasefire announced by Israel late on Saturday - already punctured by rockets, air strikes, and gunfire - to survey the war damage.

"We congratulate the (Ezzedine Al-Qassam) Brigades that threw itself into battle and won," an imam wailed from another mosque. "We salute the heroes who were martyred."

In Tal Al-Hawa another resident glanced around the depressing landscape.

"Everywhere I look there is rubble. There is still smoke rising from some places. The roads and buildings have huge gaping holes," he said.

Jumma Nasser, 62, came to his neighbourhood for the first time since the start of the war to survey the damage to his supermarket.

"Look at this, all the goods have been destroyed by tank shells," he said staring at the burned shelves.

Another resident, who gave his name only as Amer and his age as 34, left his wife and children behind at their temporary lodgings.

"I came alone because if the shelling resumes, I'll be able to run away," he said. "If my family is with me, we'll either be killed or injured. Without a complete ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, I won't be back in my home."

Such scenes were playing out all across Gaza.

In the southern city of Khan Yunis, Mohammed Al-Najar sought desperately to find him home - in vain - in the rubble.

"I came to see my home. I searched for it. There is no home. I don't even know where my home is. At least 20 residential houses are completely destroyed in our neighbourhood," he said.

"But thank God none of my children and immediate relatives have been killed."