Page last updated at 03:48 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Destruction and frustration in Gaza

By Quil Lawrence
BBC News, Gaza City

Fatima Minzaman sat in the dirt next to a crooked mountain of concrete - the five-story apartment building that used to be home to the 67-year-old woman.

Fatima Minzaman sits next to her destroyed house
Fatima Minzaman says "it's never been this bad before"

Several of her grown sons worked steadily nearby to build a one room shelter from cement blocks.

"They [the Israelis] destroyed the houses on people's heads," she said, "it's never been this bad before."

Mrs Minzaman stayed in her apartment even as the Israeli tanks and bulldozers came, until she and her brother-in-law were warned out by Israeli soldiers who she said placed explosives in the building and then demolished it.

'Israeli message'

She was one of tens of thousands across Gaza who took advantage of the ceasefire to inspect the remnants of their homes.

It's a message to the civilians here, if we try to resist [the occupation] we will see invasion and destruction
Mazen Hamada
Professor, Al Azhar University

Hamas policemen returned to the streets of Gaza on Monday, looking just as tired as the rest of the population of Gaza after three weeks of intense bombardment.

They came out to direct the traffic and keep order, but also to show that the Hamas-led government here is still intact.

Hamas leaders have claimed victory driving Israel to leave the Strip.

Israel has proclaimed that its objectives have all been met, and that troops will be completely withdrawn by Tuesday.

For beleaguered civilians here there is no kind of victory in the waste laid to entire city blocks in Gaza.

"I don't know who won or lost," said Mazen Hamada, a chemistry professor at Al Azhar University.

Mr Hamada was visiting relatives east of Gaza City, within sight of the Israeli border.

What had been an orchard of olive and orange trees is now a empty field ploughed with the tracks of Israeli tanks. Alongside a dozen homes lay in various states of destruction.

"It's a message to the civilians here," said Mr Hamada, "if we try to resist [the occupation] we will see invasion and destruction."

Frustration and exhaustion

He said the Israelis wanted to exact a high price from Gaza's people for the rockets fired at southern Israel by Hamas and other groups. But he predicted the rockets will probably continue.

"It's also a message - that we are not living here in security, so you should not live secure in your home," said Mr Hamada.

As they tried to salvage what they could from their ruined homes, many Gazans predicted that Hamas might win more recruits from the renewed anger at Israel.

But a few hinted at a frustration with the rocket fire that has killed only a handful of Israelis but provoked the worst destruction the Gaza strip has seen in decades.

"Hamas pays no attention to the people. They pay attention to themselves only," said one young man, living in a UN school near the Beach refugee camp.

He charged that Hamas was acting at the behest of Syria and Iran.

But exhaustion was perhaps the strongest sentiment, as Gazans salvaged mattresses, blankets and clothes from their homes.

Faten al-Jorou, aged 35, stumbled out of her front door in tears as her son carried out a cardboard box full of pots, pans and rolling pin.

"How could they do this?" she screamed, "and where are we supposed to go?"

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