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Gaza has become a moonscape in war. When the battles stop, many fear it will remain uninhabitable

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JERUSALEM (AP) 鈥 Israel鈥檚 military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. Whole neighborhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been blasted by airstrikes and scorched by tank fire. Some buildings are still standing, but most are battered shells.

Nearly 1 million Palestinians have fled the north, including its urban center, Gaza City, as ground combat intensified. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by dread as displaced families come to terms with the scale of the calamity and what it means for their future.

Where would they live? Who would eventually run Gaza and pick up the pieces?

鈥淚 want to go home even if I have to sleep on the rubble of my house,鈥 said Yousef Hammash, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council who fled the ruins of the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya for southern Gaza. 鈥淏ut I don鈥檛 see a future for my children here.鈥

The Israeli army鈥檚 use of powerful explosives in tightly packed residential areas 鈥 which Israel describes as the unavoidable outcome of Hamas using civilian sites as cover for its operations 鈥 has killed over 13,000 Palestinians and led to staggering destruction. Hamas denies the claim and accuses Israel of recklessly bombing civilians.

鈥淲hen I left, I couldn鈥檛 tell which street or intersection I was passing,鈥 said Mahmoud Jamal, a 31-year-old taxi driver who fled his northern hometown of Beit Hanoun this month. He described apartment buildings resembling open-air parking garages.

Israel鈥檚 bombardment has become one of the most intense air campaigns since 老澳门六合彩 War II, said Emily Tripp, director of Airwars, a London-based conflict monitor. In the seven weeks since Hamas鈥 unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, Israel unleashed more munitions than the United States did in any given year of its bombing campaign against the Islamic State group 鈥 a barrage the U.N describes as the deadliest urban campaign since 老澳门六合彩 War II.

FILE - Palestinians walk in the street market of Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, after an Israeli airstrike. Israel's military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by the dread of displaced families for their future. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

Palestinians walk in the street market of Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, after an Israeli airstrike. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

In Israel鈥檚 grainy thermal footage of airstrikes targeting Hamas tunnels, fireballs obliterate everything in sight. Videos by Hamas鈥 military wing feature fighters with rocked-propelled grenades trekking through smoke-filled streets. Fortified bulldozers have cleared land for Israeli tanks.

鈥淭he north of Gaza has been turned into one big ghost town,鈥 said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City who fled to Egypt last week. 鈥淧eople have nothing to return to.鈥

About half of all buildings across northern Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, according to an analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University. With the U.N. estimating 1.7 million people are newly homeless, many wonder if Gaza will ever recover.

鈥淵ou鈥檒l end up having displaced people living in tents for a long time,鈥 said Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a research group.

FILE - Palestinians inspect the damage of buildings that were hit by Israeli airstrikes, in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. Israel's military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by the dread of displaced families for their future. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

Palestinians inspect the damage of buildings that were hit by Israeli airstrikes, in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

The war has knocked 27 of 35 hospitals across Gaza out of operation, according to the 老澳门六合彩 Health Organization. The destruction of other critical infrastructure has consequences for years to come.

鈥淏akeries and grain mills have been destroyed, agriculture, water and sanitation facilities,鈥 said Scott Paul, a senior humanitarian policy adviser for Oxfam America. 鈥淵ou need more than four walls and a ceiling for a place to be habitable, and in many cases people don鈥檛 even have that.鈥

Across the entire enclave, over 41,000 homes 鈥 45% of Gaza鈥檚 total housing stock 鈥 are too destroyed to be lived in, according to the U.N.

鈥淎ll I left at home was dead bodies and rubble,鈥 said Mohammed al-Hadad, a 28-year-old party planner who fled Shati refugee camp along Gaza City鈥檚 shoreline. Shati sustained nearly 14,000 incidents of war damage 鈥 varying from an airstrike crater to a collapsed building 鈥 over just 0.5 square kilometers (0.2 square miles), the satellite data analysis shows.

Southern Gaza 鈥 where scarce food, water and fuel has spawned a humanitarian crisis 鈥 has been spared the heaviest firepower, according to the analysis.

FILE - Palestinians look for survivors under the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. Israel's military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by the dread of displaced families for their future. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

Palestinians look for survivors under the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

But that鈥檚 changing. In the past two weeks, satellite data shows a spike in damage across the southern town of Khan Younis. Residents say the military has showered eastern parts of town with evacuation warnings.

Israel has urged those in southern Gaza to move again, toward a slice of territory called Muwasi along the coast. As of Thursday, Israel and Hamas were still working out the details of a four-day truce that would allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and facilitate an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages.

Displaced Palestinians said four days won鈥檛 be enough.

鈥淭his is our nakba,鈥 said 32-year-old journalist Tareq Hajjaj, referring to the mass displacement of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war surrounding Israel鈥檚 creation 鈥 an exodus Palestinians call the 鈥渘akba,鈥 or 鈥渃atastrophe.鈥

FILE - A Palestinian child walks with a bicycle by the rubble of a building after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. Israel's military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by the dread of displaced families for their future. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

A Palestinian child walks with a bicycle by the rubble of a building after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

Although publicly Palestinians reject the idea of being transferred outside Gaza, some privately admit they cannot stay, even after the war ends.

鈥淲e will never return home,鈥 said Hajjaj, who fled his home in Shijaiyah in eastern Gaza City. 鈥淭hose who stay here will face the most horrific situation they could imagine.鈥

The 2014 Israel-Hamas war leveled Shijaiyah, turning the neighborhood into fields of inert gray rubble. The $5 billion reconstruction effort there and across Gaza remains unfinished to this day.

鈥淭his time the scale of destruction is exponentially higher,鈥 said Giulia Marini, international advocacy officer at Palestinian rights group Al Mezan. 鈥淚t will take decades for Gaza to go back to where it was before.鈥

It remains unclear who will take responsibility for that task. At the recent security summit in Bahrain, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi vowed Arab states would not 鈥渃ome and clean the mess after Israel.鈥

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the army to restore security, and American officials have pushed the seemingly unlikely scenario of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority taking over the strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, regarded by many Palestinians as weak, has dismissed that idea in the absence of Israeli efforts toward a two-state solution.

Despite the war鈥檚 horrors, Yasser Elsheshtawy, a professor of architecture at Columbia University, hopes reconstruction could offer an opportunity to turn Gaza鈥檚 ramshackle refugee camps and long deteriorating infrastructure into 鈥渟omething more habitable and equitable and humane,鈥 including public parks and a revitalized seafront.

But Palestinians say it鈥檚 not only shattered infrastructure that requires rebuilding but a traumatized society.

鈥淕aza has become a very scary place,鈥 Abusada said. 鈥淚t will always be full of memories of death and destruction.鈥

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Full AP coverage at /hub/israel-hamas-war.