Page last updated at 18:20 GMT, Sunday, 18 January 2009

Broken town shows Gaza destruction

Gazans returning to their homes in Beit Lahiya were shocked

The BBC's Paul Wood is part of the first group of journalists to gain independent access to Gaza from Israel. He reports from Gaza City on his impressions as he entered northern Gaza hours after Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire.

The Erez crossing from Israel into Gaza is an eerie place at the best of times.

The first hours of a shaky ceasefire are not "the best of times".

As we stepped out of the concrete tunnel which leads from Israeli passport control, we could hear tanks manoeuvring nearby.

Their spent shells were on the ground. Israeli drones - un-manned aircraft - were circling overhead.

Unsurprisingly, the road was completely deserted, save for a couple of wild dogs and a donkey whose owner had long since fled.

The Hamas customs post, too, was abandoned - destroyed by Israeli fire.


Residents in Gaza describe their ordeal

But it was in the nearby town of Beit Lahiya that we saw the first real destruction and a hint of how so many lives have been lost here.

There were streets churned up by Israeli heavy armour; overturned cars; a lake of raw sewage in the street and a mosque left as a broken, charred ruin and smoke was still rising from a large school building across the way.

A Palestinian man carrying a white cane told me how his 13-year-old son had been killed by a tank shell.

"We were sleeping in our beds," he says, "I am nearly blind. We were no threat to the Israelis."

Everyone here denied there were military targets in the homes fired on by the Israeli forces.

But Hamas officials stopped us from filming at one site where bodies were still being removed.

This was a sign, perhaps, that there had indeed been some kind of military target if not in the houses then nearby.

Who is to blame for the loss of life in Gaza will be fiercely disputed between Israel and Hamas even as the final death toll is calculated.

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