With packed donkeys and children in their arms, Palestinians returned home last weekend. But for Gazans from Gaza City, where most of the population lives, that was impossible because of the Israeli presence in the north. On Friday morning, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people in the south not to return to the north. “The war is not over,” they read.
“They cannot find out if their homes are still standing and how family members left behind are doing,” says Aed Yaghi, the director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), from his home in central Gaza.
Still, people are having a moment of rest, Yaghi observes. Since Friday morning, the beginning of the cease-fire, no explosions have sounded in the enclave and Palestinians are enjoying the calm. Al Jazeera footage shows children playing on the beach and Palestinians using the sea to fish. Yaghi hopes for an extended period of calm.
The bottom line
The agreement between Israel and Hamas looks fragile. Especially when hostages were not released until late Saturday, when they were supposed to be released in the afternoon. The exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners during a four-day truce is the core of the deal that Israel and Hamas reached Wednesday with help from Gulf state Qatar. More humanitarian aid trucks would also enter Gaza.
Before Saturday, October 7th, Gaza received more than 500 of these trucks daily. Yaghi stressed that during the cease-fire, “only” 200 trucks per day enter Gaza. “It’s nothing: Gaza needs a lot of food, a lot of medicine and a lot of fuel,” he said.
Before the truce, more than 14,000 people were killed, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry. It is estimated that about 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents have been displaced. And more than half of the homes have been damaged or destroyed, according to the United Nations. It causes much grief during the cease-fire as residents contemplate their destroyed apartment complexes.
Injured aid workers
Yaghi, who works with WHO and UNRWA, owns 10 health centers in Gaza. This weekend, he was able to reopen the health center in Khan Younis. This medical facility was no longer functioning because of the bombing in the eastern part of the city, but because of the cease-fire, Yaghi considers it safe again for a while.
Despite caution, some PMRS aid workers were already injured during the war. The director has also lost contact with some of his aid workers in Gaza. “Especially in Gaza City and Jabalia, we are worried about their safety,” he said.
PMRS is seeing major shortages of beds and medicine. “We have already lost 65 percent of the total number of beds. We are now working with only a third of the capacity for the entire population.” Doctors do say more medical supplies are entering the strip during the cease-fire, such as painkillers and anesthesia.
For those who could no longer be saved and were killed during the war, the cease-fire provides space for a final salute of respect. Gazans are busy burying the bodies, although space for this remains limited.
“It is too early to say that there has been any improvement in the humanitarian situation. Especially with the huge numbers of people in the shelters. They are in dire need,” says Yaghi, who like many has to wait hours for food and drink.
The medical worker is especially concerned about the spread of an epidemic. “I see people with diarrhea and various skin diseases. The shelters are overcrowded.” In addition, winter is approaching and Gazans lack warm clothing. Many residents left those clothes behind because in October, when much of the population headed south, the weather was still extremely sunny.
It became clear Monday night that Gazans have two more days of calm and maybe even a little more, but there are fears that the war will erupt again in full intensity after that.