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Gaza's wasteland seen via bicycle after six months of war

By Mahmood Issa, Dawoud Abu Alkas, Ahmed Zakot and Mohammed Salem

GAZA, April 4 (Reuters) - Before the Gaza war erupted, the tiny enclave run by the Palestinian militant group Hamas was impoverished and densely populated, but full of life -- restaurants, shops, makeshift soccer pitches, universities and hospitals.

Six months after the conflict began, Reuters cameramen took bicycle rides along its ruined streets to gauge the destruction left by Israeli air strikes that have killed more than 33,000 people in retaliation for Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The same scene played out on one road after another -- pile after pile of rubble on each side in the strip, home to 2.3 million people who lack medicine, medical care and food in a deepening humanitarian crisis.

Many live in shelters or tent cities after moving from one part of the enclave to another to try to escape the relentless bombardment.

Movement along its quiet streets is limited. There are few signs of life. Men drive by on a motorbike. A young boy pushes a wheelbarrow along a dirt road past obliterated buildings through clouds of dirt. A mosque was not spared destruction.

On another, a man walks along with a sack of flour on his shoulder. Food is scarce in Gaza where Palestinians say attempting to secure supplies is a life or death scramble like the one that cost more than 100 Palestinians their lives in February trying to get food from an aid convoy. Israel said many were trampled to death in the chaos, while Gaza's health authorities say Israeli troops opened fire on crowds.

IMMINENT FAMINE

Israel is carrying out the offensive in retaliation for a Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 people taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

The United Nations has warned of a looming famine and complained of obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza. The U.S. also says famine is imminent.

Israeli officials say they have increased aid access to Gaza, are not responsible for delays and that the aid delivery inside Gaza is the responsibility of the U.N. and humanitarian agencies. Israel has also accused Hamas of stealing aid, a charge Hamas denies.

Underscoring the chaos in Gaza, citizens from Australia, Britain and Poland were among seven people working for celebrity chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza on Monday, the NGO said.

For now, Palestinians can only walk on streets lined with debris and watch the wastelands grow with each airstrike.

The cameramen on bicycles saw little signs of life in a sea of rubble. Two women walked with a young child. A few people sat under a colourful umbrella. Men moved along with a donkey on a cart. Burned out cars stood on the edge of some streets.

(Reporting by Mahmood Issa, Dawoud Abu Alkas, Ahmed Zakot and Mohammed Salem; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sharon Singleton)