cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Wed, 27 Aug 2014 04:40:22 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Israel-Gaza ceasefire holds, sides weigh gains



Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel following a ceasefire in Gaza City August 26, 2014. Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a Gaza ceasefire, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday. Egyptian and Palestinian officials said the truce was to take effect at 7 pm (© 1600 GMT)

Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel following a ceasefire in Gaza City August 26, 2014. Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a Gaza ceasefire, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday. Egyptian and Palestinian officials said the truce was to take effect at 7 pm (1600 GMT). REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR43UWH Mohammed Salem/Reuters

An open-ended ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday, as many people on both sides of the conflict wondered what was gained during 50 days of fighting.

The Gaza war — the 3rd round of fighting since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007 — left more than 2,200 people dead, caused widespread destruction in the densely populated coastal territory and paralyzed large parts of southern Israel during much of the summer.

After more than seven weeks of fighting, the two sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will maintain a blockade tightened seven years ago, despite Hamas' long-running demand that the border restrictions be lifted.

Early Wednesday the Israeli military said there were no reports of violations since the ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. local time Tuesday.

​Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the ceasefire was announced.

Thousands of residents of southern Israeli communities in range of Hamas rocket and mortar fire fled their homes in favor of safer areas, amid increasing bitterness over the government's conduct of the war.

Israeli media reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deliberately not put the ceasefire to a vote in his security Cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue the fighting.

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, a longstanding security hawk, lambasted the Israeli leadership in comments to Israel Radio early Wednesday for "wanting peace at any price," an approach that he said would undermine Israel's ability to deter militants.

Netanyahu came in for particularly piercing criticism from veteran political commentator Nahum Barnea, whose columns frequently crystallize the feelings of ordinary Israelis.

"Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public," he wrote in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "Instead they received a slick spokesman and very little else."

Gaza residents start to return home

In Gaza, life was slowly returning to normal Wednesday, as traffic policemen took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. Harried utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure damaged by weeks of Israeli airstrikes.

"We are going back today," said farmer Radwan Al Sultan, 42, as he and some of his seven children used an overloaded three-wheeled tuk-tuk to return to their home in the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. "Finally we will enjoy our home sweet home again."

While tens of thousands of Gazans dutifully heeded Hamas calls to flood the streets of Gaza City and other Gaza communities late Tuesday night, many appeared to be more interested in enjoying their freedom from Israeli air and artillery strikes rather than participating in any kind of victory celebration.

In the last 72 hours of the war, Israel had extended its attacks from crowded working class neighbourhoods where support for Hamas is strong to a number of less militant areas, in a possible attempt to leverage middle class opinion to pressure the group to accept a ceasefire agreement more or less on Israel's terms.

Some Gaza residents expressed optimism that Egyptian-brokered talks scheduled to go forward in Cairo in the coming weeks will ultimately result in realizing the key Hamas demand of opening a seaport and airport in the territory.

While that seems unlikely — Hamas would have to accede to Israel's own demand of giving up its arsenal of rockets and other weapons — Gaza fisherman Ahmad al-Hessi exulted in Israel's apparent agreement to extend from three to six nautical miles the maritime territory open to Gazan fishermen.

"We heard last night we are allowed to fish six miles and it will be extended to 12 miles during negotiations," he said. "There is nothing better than this."

more video