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Israel returns hundreds of Gazan workers detained since October 7 to the Gaza Strip

Israel returned hundreds of Palestinian workers from Gaza to the Gaza Strip on Friday, after detaining them since Hamas launched its terrorist offensive against the country on October 7.

The workers were dropped off by buses near Gaza and walked to the southern edge of the enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

The workers were among what Israeli rights groups say are thousands of abandoned workers in Israel since the start of the war.

Rights groups say workers’ work permits have been revoked and all traces of their status erased from their records, leaving them vulnerable and in legal limbo.

Some of those entering Gaza said they were being held at Ofer, an Israeli-run detention center in the West Bank.

One of those released, Mohammed Shalaya, said the treatment was bad for the first five to six days, but then conditions improved.

Shalaya said he had worked in a quarry in northern Israel. He said he and the other workers were forced to hand over their money, cellphones and ID cards after being arrested and did not collect their belongings before being dropped off near Gaza.

Palestinian workers, stranded in Israel since the October 7 attacks, return to the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing with Israel, in the south of the Palestinian enclave, on November 3, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

They were among 18,500 Palestinians in Gaza who had visas to work in Israel, but whose right to do so was revoked three days after the Hamas attack.

That day, thousands of terrorists crossed the border and attacked communities, killing more than 1,400 people and kidnapping at least 240 hostages. Most of the victims were civilians tortured and massacred in their homes and at a music festival.

In response, Israel launched a war against Hamas, pledging to eradicate the terrorist organization that rules Gaza, and began a frenzied bombardment of terrorist targets in the territory.

The health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza says 9,227 people have been killed in Israeli bombings, most of them civilians. The figures cannot be independently verified and some Israeli officials have expressed doubts about their veracity. They also do not differentiate between terrorists and civilians.

The U.N. and other international actors have accused Israel of not doing enough to protect civilians, while insisting it is making efforts to avoid harming civilians while fighting the terrorists behind the civilian population.

On Friday, some of the Palestinian workers sent back there said they did not know if their families were alive or if their homes were still standing.

“I was in a detention center with hundreds of other prisoners,” Ramadan al-Issawi told AFP in a trembling voice. “We told ourselves that we could die at any moment.”

Palestinian workers, stranded in Israel since the October 7 attacks, return to the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border, November 3, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

“They gave us just enough food and water to survive, but we knew nothing about what was happening outside,” Issawi said.

Israel has slowly increased the number of Gazans with work permits in recent months, hoping to provide economic incentives for the strip’s residents to maintain the peace. This strategy was shattered by the attacks of October 7. On Thursday, the Israeli security cabinet said in a statement: “There will be no more Palestinian workers from Gaza. »

Some of those who returned to the Gaza Strip on Friday told AFP they had been tortured. The news agency did not provide a response from Israel to these claims, and it is not clear whether it requested one.

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