Beach offers rare respite for war-weary Gazans


Hundreds of Gazans found rare respite at the beach this week from more than six months of traumatizing Israeli bombardments in the Palestinian territory.

After temperatures suddenly soared, children paddled in the sea and their friends played ball games on the sand around Deir el-Balah in the center of the coastal strip -- but the war was never far away.

Deir al-Balah city became a focus of fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants. Israeli bombardments have left children dead and wounded.

"The children were happy and this was our first goal -- to get them out of the destruction, killing, and the atmosphere of war, even though they hear explosions every moment and planes in the air," said Naji Abu Waseem, displaced from Gaza City in the territory's north.

"God willing, this war will end and we will return to Gaza City, even to the rubble."

Many at the beach are living in makeshift shelters nearby. They are among the 1.7 million people the United Nations says have been uprooted by Gaza's war and left struggling for food, water and other essentials.

"The tent was like an oven," said Mahmud al-Khatib, 28, also displaced from Gaza's north. "The sea was the only option," where he took his wife and children.

"There's no infrastructure, no life, everything is nonexistent," Khatib said on Wednesday with the arrival of summer-like temperatures.

Groups of men lay in the sand looking at the waves as children played in the water. Women and girls in tunics and hijabs took photographs.

- 'Fear and terror' -

More than 70 percent of those killed in the war are women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed across the border from Gaza and attacked southern Israel, allegedly resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also abducted around 250 people, of whom 129 still remain in Gaza including 34 the military says are dead.

Since then Israel's relentless military offensive against Hamas has killed at least 33,899 people in Gaza, the territory's health ministry said.

Yunis Abu Ramadan, displaced with his family from the Gaza City area, said that, "with shooting everywhere," it is impossible to forget the war.

"We live in fear and terror and wish to return to our homes in Gaza," he said.

Still, his wife, Umm Ramadan, said the beach was a welcome break from their cramped life in an overcrowded tent.

"We're packed like sardines," she said. "We do not know comfort or calm due to the (Israeli) air strikes and the fear and anxiety of the children."

Worry persisted even at the water's edge, Ramadan added.

"We saw all the people in the tents had reached the sea like us because the weather was very hot," she said.

"But we were afraid that we would be bombed while we were by the sea too, as (Israeli) boats were close to the shore," Ramadan added.

"We hope the war will end and we will return to our homes."

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