KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - Swerving to avoid a crater left in the road by a strike, a donkey trots along the debris-strewn streets of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, then slows to navigate a narrow passageway cleared through the rubble of destroyed apartment blocks.

With a dearth of fuel caused by Israel's blockade of Gaza since the start of its war against Hamas, donkey carts have become an essential mode of transport for people and goods in the bombarded Palestinian territory.

A Reuters crew travelled with Mohammed al Najar, whose home in Khan Younis was destroyed by an air strike and who is now living with his family in a school in Khuza'a, about 8 km (5 miles) away on the eastern outskirts of town.

"It's hard to move so we use donkey carts. Unfortunately it takes us three to four hours to reach Khan Younis," said Najar, speaking on the back of the cart.

The slower pace gives a clear view of a city scarred by war, with the white donkey trotting past one scene of destruction after another.

Some buildings had been destroyed, reduced to grey piles of broken concrete and metal rods, the only traces of colour from bits of clothing and possessions strewn amid the chaos.

Others were damaged to different degrees - a pockmarked facade, a hole in a wall, missing windows. One was an empty shell, standing thanks to supporting pillars but with no walls.

Sheets of corrugated iron lay on the ground, bent at strange angles, and piles of rubbish and debris were everywhere.

There were hardly any motor vehicles on the road, just the odd scooter. Bicycles were more common, as well as other donkey carts. Mostly, people were on foot. Two men carried a cooking gas cylinder, sharing the weight between them.


At several locations, buildings on both sides of the road had been flattened, and people had cleared passageways just wide enough for one car to pass. The cart passed the burnt-out carcass of a car marooned in chunks of concrete.

The destruction in Khan Younis in the south is not as extreme as in Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza that have borne the brunt of Israel's military campaign. Drone footage from the north shows large areas have been blasted into moonscapes.

The war began on Oct. 7 when militants from Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, including babies and children, and seizing about 240 hostages of all ages, according to Israeli figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched an assault on Gaza that has killed more than 15,000 people, four in ten of them children, according to health officials there. It has displaced most of the population into overcrowded schools and camps. The World Health Organization has warned that more people could die from disease than from bombings.

Wednesday was the sixth day of a truce between Israel and Hamas that has allowed for the release of some Israeli and foreign hostages as well as Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. More aid trucks have been allowed into Gaza. Diplomatic efforts were underway to try and extend the truce.

Najar, like most people in Gaza, did not want the fighting to resume. He was crushed by the loss of his home.

"They didn't leave a tree or a stone," he said, appealing to God to bring the war to an end.

(Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)