Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Life in Gaza resumed some semblance of normality Wednesday as a long-term truce took hold following a deal hailed by Israel and Hamas as ‘victory’ in the 50-day war.
Millions in and around the war-torn enclave enjoyed a welcome night of peace during which there were no strikes on Gaza, nor Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, the Israeli army said.
“We were able to sleep!” said a Gazan man, Alaa al-Jaro. “We had the best sleep ever after the Israeli aggression ended.”
“A ceasefire has been signed, and this time it should last, not like before,” said 16-year-old Raed Alaa Habeb from Gaza City’s battered Shejaiya neighborhood.
The agreement, effective from 1600 GMT Tuesday, saw the warring sides agree to a “permanent” ceasefire which Israel said would not be limited by time, in a move hailed by Washington, the United Nations and top world diplomats.
Both Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, the de facto authority in Gaza, hailed the ceasefire as a victory.
But commentators took a more realistic perspective. “A draw” was the headline in Maariv newspaper.
Some said the two sides agreed to halt their fire out of exhaustion after seven weeks of fighting that claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side.
“After 50 days of fighting, the two sides were exhausted so that’s why they reached a ceasefire,” Middle East expert Eyal Zisser told AFP.
Politically, Hamas had “not achieved anything” but to really weaken it, Israel would have to resume peace talks with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, he said.
Under the deal, Israel will ease restrictions on the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials into Gaza, and expand the offshore area open to Palestinian fishermen to six nautical miles.
But talks on Hamas demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls to disarm militant groups, are delayed until negotiators return to Cairo within the coming month.
Even ahead of the Cairo talks, Israel staked out a firm stance on how it will approach the upcoming negotiations.
“There will be no port, no airport and no entry of materials that could be used to produce rockets or build tunnels,” said deputy foreign minister Tzahi HaNegbi, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“That will be our position which we will present at the negotiations in Cairo,” he told public radio.
Israel has consistently linked Gaza’s reconstruction with its demilitarization, with former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror saying Hamas must choose between its desire to see Gaza rebuilt and its desire to re-arm.
“Either they will give up reconstruction, or if they want it, they have to give up the dream of being a military force on the ground,” he told journalists.
Israeli officials were quick to portray the ceasefire as a resounding success which ended in both military and political defeat for Hamas.
“For years Hamas has prepared a number of very big operations for a war against Israel, involving rockets, tunnels and terror attacks and all of these met a crushing response from the IDF (army),” said Netanyahu’s spokesman Liran Dan.
“Hamas started this (war) with a clear declaration that it wouldn’t stop without an end to the blockade, a port and an airport,” he told army radio.
“It didn’t get anything that it wanted.”
But Hamas too claimed victory, saying it caused Israel heavy losses, in a reference to the 64 soldiers killed in the fighting in its biggest military loss since 2006.
“The Palestinian resistance achieved a military victory before the war was over because it stood firm in the face of the arsenal of Zionist terrorism,” the Islamist movement said in a statement.
A World Food Programme aid convoy crossed into Gaza from Egypt for the first time since 2007, carrying enough food to last 150,000 people for five days, the Geneva-based agency said.
The convoy was carrying 15,650 food parcels, including ready-to-eat canned meat, canned beans, tea and dates, it said.
Palestinian officials were expected to meet with their Israeli counterparts on Thursday to discuss procedures at the crossings, Raed Fattuh, head of the Palestinian liaison committee told AFP.
“Karm Abu Salem will operate tomorrow as usual, in the way it was before the Israeli war,” he told AFP, using the Arabic name for the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing at the southernmost end of the Israel-Gaza border.
“The Palestinian and Israeli sides will meet tomorrow to look into everything regarding the movement of merchandise through the crossing.”
AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams