As Troops Leave, 95 Bodies Discovered in Rubble, Thousands Throng to Streets

Tens of thousands of people thronged through Gaza's streets yesterday morning. Many left their relatives' houses and the schools where they had been staying for the last two or three weeks, after having been forced to flee the bombing of their homes and neighborhoods and the Israel Defense Forces' advance. They came out to check whether their homes were still standing, or to try to save something from among the rubble of those houses that were destroyed.

Others came out to examine the damage and discovered that entire residential neighborhoods had been wiped out. "We were cut off, without electricity and television. Contrary to people living in the West Bank and elsewhere around the world, who were able to watch the news, we did not see the pictures broadcast from other places. We only knew about the damage nearby, around us, in our houses," said one resident of Tel al-Hawa, the Gaza neighborhood the IDF took control of last Thursday.

Residents crowded the streets yesterday despite fears that the IDF would shell and bomb them again, although Israel had announced a unilateral cease-fire. After several hours of quiet, they began to feel somewhat relieved about no longer hearing any explosions or ambulance sirens - sounds that have been haunting them for the last three weeks. But the scale of the destruction, which is still hard to fathom, left them in shock.

Teams of city workers began making some initial repairs: electric company employees started raising fallen electric poles and installing new transformers; bulldozers began clearing a few streets of the barriers blocking them - including burnt-out cars, left over from the army's attacks, dirt barriers set up by the IDF and broken concrete and cinderblocks.

Medical teams succeeded, for the first time in three weeks, to carry out their work without fear. They searched for bodies buried under the rubble - in those places where the IDF allowed Red Cross and Red Crescent staff to operate. By yesterday evening, the number of already decomposing bodies retrieved stood at 95, medical authorities in Gaza reported.

It is unclear how many of the dead bled to death and how many died immediately. The Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said some of the bodies were half buried in the middle of the ruined streets, among sand, asphalt and rubble. These people are believed to have been shot while fleeing the shelling and the approaching army. Some of them looked like they were run over by heavy vehicles, caused by the army's advance, Mezan reported.

Those houses whose owners had fled and which had been taken over by the IDF showed different signs of damage and destruction, residents reported to human rights organizations. Some told Haaretz that the soldiers had intentionally shot at their appliances, such as televisions and refrigerators, as well as windows. In addition, several people claimed that their furniture had been destroyed and valuables stolen.