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Amid temporary cease-fire, Gaza residents survey level of destruction

July 26, 2014 at 6:25 PM EDT
After weeks of war that has now reportedly claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians and at least 42 Israelis, Israel and Hamas observed a 12-hour cease-fire on Saturday. Refugees from the Israeli offensive in Gaza returned to their homes to find some neighborhoods destroyed. Nicholas Casey of the Wall Street Journal has more from Gaza City.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: So Nicholas you’ve been in Gaza through this temporary cease-fire. What’s life been like?

NICHOLAS CASEY: Well dozens went outside today. For many people this was the first time that they had seen their homes after they fled and we as their reporters also got the chance to get out and see what just had gone on. I think what we all learned, was that large parts of Gaza are completely destroyed right now.

I myself haven’t seen anything that was this bad since I was in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, and I would say that there’s only a few parts of the world right now that have gotten to this level of destruction. Syria being the first one that comes to mind. There were entire areas where the buildings were barely standing. I saw a mosque that had been basically blown to pieces. There were animals that were dead out in the street.

There were people trying to take people out of the rubble and get their bodies so they could be buried. One woman showed me a Quran, copy of the Quran that she said her husband had been reading was covered in blood and flies and in the cemeteries there weren’t enough places to bury people. They were literally having to try to bury people in graves of other people where there was some room because there were no room in the grave yards.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Was this an opportunity for people to re-stock supplies, food, water?

NICHOLAS CASEY: It was, they were trying to do a lot of things at the same time. I think the first thing was to just satisfy the curiosity of what had happened to their homes and then the second priority was also to try to get some supplies because they think the fighting might be coming again, really soon. I saw a lot of people who were carrying mattresses. Mattresses seemed to be the thing that people needed most.

They would go back to their house and get as many of them as they could, others were trying to get water and some food. About 95 percent of Gazan water is undrinkable, it’s salty actually, so water has to be drank out of bottles and you have to find it and a lot of people were struggling to do that today.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the refugee population? Where hearing now numbers up to 140,000 people have been displaced that’s almost 10% of the population.

NICHOLAS CASEY: It is, it’s actually higher than that figure you said. It’s about 165,000 people right now and that’s a huge number. That was about three times as much as during the 2008 war, which was the only war that had sort of gotten to this level that were at.

So it’s a huge number of people in Gaza that aren’t in their homes right now. They are staying in schools but even the schools have become places that aren’t safe. Just a few day s ago an U.N shelter which was in a school was attacked and this was an attack that killed 16 people and this is what Gazans are learning. The fact they may be getting some warnings that there may be an attack that’s going to happen in their neighborhood.

From Israel there’s not a place for them to go to right now this is a very small strip of land about 36 miles long and there’s no way out of here right now. So as long as the fighting is going on the people here are trapped in the fighting, they are going to be in the fight. The talk of the refugee here is a bit silly because there’s no way no place to take refuge from here you can’t leave.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Nicholas Casey of the Wall Street Journal joining us by phone from Gaza, thanks so much.

NICHOLAS CASEY: Thanks.