As Israel dials back the intensity of its military campaign in the northern Gaza Strip, some residents say they are able to walk through war-ravaged neighborhoods more freely, and that the sounds of gun battles and explosions are becoming less frequent.
The area is in ruins, with entire neighborhoods unrecognizable, but the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops since early January has enabled residents to feel a dose of relief, if only temporarily.
Rami Jelde, 32, a resident of Gaza City, said that over the last four weeks he had not seen any Israeli soldiers while walking the streets of what was Gaza’s most populous city before the war. He spent much of the past three months huddling with his family at a local church, alongside roughly 350 other Christians, in an attempt to evade nearly constant explosions.
People “are starting to leave and walk around, get supplies, and hurry back,” said Mr. Jelde, who works for a Catholic relief group.
But coming to terms with the city’s devastation — razed buildings and ubiquitous islands of rubble — has been hard. “Walking through the streets of northern Gaza is like being in a zombie movie, or a film showing the apocalypse,” Mr. Jelde said.
Mr. Jelde said he had taken advantage of the relative calm to check on his home in Rimal, an upscale neighborhood of Gaza City that was hit hard by bombing. The door to his partially-destroyed home had been blasted off, he said, and strangers — displaced Gazans — were inside. Some displaced Palestinians from the enclave’s northern communities are now squatting in apartments in Gaza City, staying in the abandoned homes of residents who have fled south, Mr. Jelde added.
Israeli officials say the high-intensity phase of the campaign in northern Gaza has ended and the army has succeeded in degrading Hamas’s local battalions. Airstrikes have become less important as Israel has gained operational control of the area, an Israeli military spokesman said.
Food is still scarce with few aid shipments reaching the north, but makeshift markets have popped up with vendors selling what many residents presume are stolen goods. “These markets are shameful, but there aren’t any alternatives,” said Rajab Tafish, 37, a telephone repairman who lives in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood.
Staples like milk and eggs are not available, and other basic foods have skyrocketed in price, Mr. Tafish said. A large bag of rice, which cost about $27 before the war, is now going for $80, he said.
Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that not enough trucks carrying aid have reached northern Gaza since the war started on Oct. 7. She said U.N.-affiliated trucks have entered the enclave as early as 4:30 a.m. in order to avoid crowds of desperate people obstructing and then emptying them. Delays at an Israeli checkpoint in the center of the territory have prevented the trucks from reaching their destinations before the crowds swell, making it difficult to distribute aid in an organized fashion, she said.
Mr. Tafish, a father of three, said the slightly calmer situation in Gaza City had made it possible to bring his newborn son, who is less than a month old, to a hospital for vaccinations this week. Still, he noticed on Wednesday that soldiers had retaken positions that they had left weeks ago.
“I worry the war could come back,” he said.
The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in a speech on Tuesday the army was still facing “pockets of resistance” and military commanders planned to eliminate them with raids, airstrikes and special operations.
More than anything, Mr. Tafish — who was forced to huddle at his residence for 20 consecutive days during the height of the battle in the north — said he hoped the war would come to a complete end soon.
“Gaza needs a hundred years to get back to where it was,” he said. “We’ve had enough and we want to get out.”