Residents were piling donkey carts with washing machines, mattresses and television sets to be moved to safety. Others picked through the rubble to find lost items. A man walked down a sandy street balancing a pile of frying pans.
"This is the third time my house has been demolished," Faiza Malahi, 37, said as she stacked mattresses on a cart. "I'm packing my furniture, but I don't know where I'm going to put it next."
Police at the Kisufim crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip scuffle with an Israeli peace activist protesting the army's operation in Rafah.
(Oded Baililty -- AP)
Somewhere in the rubble of his home, said Ihab Mansour, was 1,500 Jordanian dinars he had intended to use to pay the bride price for his fiancee. At nightfall, Mansour, 23, was still guarding the area from digging children, trying to figure out a way to salvage his planned marriage.
Salman Qishta, 90, was in bed just past midnight Thursday when, according to relatives, Israeli forces knocked down an adjacent building. Collapsing walls crashed down on Qishta's home, partially pinning him under a pile of bricks and a water tank.
Qishta escaped with mild shock and head injuries, his relatives said, but his bedroom was destroyed, so on Friday he slept in a makeshift bed in his garden.
Israeli officials said only seven houses were demolished this week but conceded that many more had been extensively damaged in fighting. Armored bulldozers tore up the pavement of virtually every street in a search for mines and other explosives planted by militants, they said.
During the siege, Ashraf Alkhapeed, 26, an emergency medical technician for the Palestinian Red Crescent, shuttled between treating the injured near Tel Sultan and trying to reach his own family, besieged in Brazil.
Once his wife phoned while he was giving oxygen to a wounded 13-year-old. "There are Israeli tanks right outside the door," she said. "Please come and get the baby out."
Alkhapeed borrowed an ambulance and tried to enter Brazil four times, but the vehicle was shot at by tanks posted at the entrance to the neighborhood.
He said he told his wife over the phone: "Don't be afraid. I'm going to come to help you. Don't anybody go to the window or the door. Don't make noise."
But the baby wouldn't stop crying.
When the Brazil area opened Friday morning, Alkhapeed had to work for several hours before he could break away and look for his family. When he could, he rushed home to find everyone fine but his house riddled with bullet holes. So he arranged to send the family out of town, and he went back to work.
Correspondent Glenn Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.