Gazans take stock of damage as cease-fire holds on second day
Palestinians returned to their homes in Gaza to find widespread devastation on Wednesday, the second day of a 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after a month of fighting and broken truces that has left nearly 2,000 people dead. The temporary reprieve comes amid ongoing negotiations in Cairo that mediators hope will secure a long-term truce and humanitarian relief for the war-torn region.
Israel said Tuesday that it had withdrawn its ground forces from Gaza after completing its primary military objective, the destruction of 32 cross-border tunnels and dozens of access points used by Hamas militants to smuggle arms into the Palestinian enclave and to launch attacks on Israel.
“For the moment, the near constant firing of Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles and mortars has subsided,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. “But, of course, we cannot rest as the suffering continues. This ceasefire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear.”
Nearly 1,900 Palestinians – the majority of them civilians – have lost their lives since hostilities began July 8. More than one-third of the casualties have been women and children, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
Dozens of Palestinians have also died while taking shelter at U.N. facilities that have come under fire in recent weeks – attacks that the U.N. secretary general called “outrageous, unacceptable and unjustified.”
“Yes, we uncovered cases in which weapons were stored in a small number of abandoned buildings. Yes, there were reports that Hamas rockets were fired from near UN premises. Yet, let me be clear: Mere suspicion of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians,” Ban said.
According to an Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson, 597 of the 3,356 rockets fired at Israel have been launched from civilian facilities, including approximately 260 shot from schools and 50 from hospitals used as cover by Hamas.
Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that controls a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament, is now seeking an internationally-funded reconstruction plan as part of the longer-term truce being negotiated in Egypt, which would be overseen by a unity government led by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israelis, however, are hesitant to make any concessions that could be seen as rewarding the militant group for its attacks.