Palestinians return to southern Gaza after Israeli withdrawal, find city unrecognizable

Palestinian families return to their houses left amid rubble and devastating destruction after Israeli forces' withdrawal from Khan Yunis, Gaza on April 08, 2024.

Palestinian residents returning to southern Gaza following the withdrawal of Israeli troops were shocked to find their home city utterly unrecognizable. The aftermath of relentless bombardments and fighting left a scene of devastation beyond their expectations.

According to the Associated Press, Israeli troops concluded their withdrawal from Khan Younis on Sunday, marking the end of a months-long siege characterized by the destruction of thousands of buildings and homes.

On Monday, many of the thousands who journeyed to Khan Younis on foot or by donkey carts had sought refuge in Rafah. The withdrawal afforded them an opportunity to survey the wreckage of their homes and salvage some belongings. However, faced with the grim reality of an uninhabitable city, their prospects for immediate return appeared bleak.

Mapping experts Corey Scher of City University of New York and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University, utilizing satellite imagery, estimate that approximately 55% of the buildings in the Khan Younis area—equating to around 45,000 structures—have been either destroyed or damaged.


 Palestinian families return to their houses left amid rubble and devastating destruction after Israeli forces' withdrawal from Khan Yunis, Gaza on April 08, 2024. 

"Where do I sleep? Where do I go?" one woman told the Associated Press, sobbing in despair, sitting amid the rubble of the family's living room.

Her daughters searched for anything they could take with them. The room’s walls were blown away and the floor was piled with chunks of concrete, slabs of the ceiling and broken countertops. Only the columns painted pink gave any sign it had once been their home.

What is Khan Youni?

Khan Youni is a city located in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, which is a Palestinian territory bordered by Israel and Egypt. It is one of the largest cities in Gaza and is known for its refugee camps. Khan Younis has been heavily affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experiencing frequent military operations and violence.

The stark imagery unfolding in Khan Younis highlights the harrowing toll of one of modern history's most destructive and deadly military campaigns, rendering the majority of Gaza's tiny coastal enclave uninhabitable for its 2.3 million inhabitants. 

As attention shifts to Rafah, Gaza's southernmost town now accommodating half of the displaced population, the looming specter of further Israeli incursion portends a continuation of the region's dire humanitarian crisis.

Why did Israeli troops pull out of Khan Youni? 

In December, Israel deployed troops to Khan Younis as part of its aggressive ground offensive, launched in retaliation to Hamas' attack and hostage-taking in southern Israel on October 7th. The subsequent withdrawal marked a significant reduction in Israeli troop presence within the tiny coastal enclave since the onset of the conflict.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entrenched his stance on launching an offensive in Rafah. In a video statement on Monday, he delivered a persistent message, declaring, "It will happen. There is a date," leaving the specifics frustratingly vague. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.