JERUSALEM – An open-ended cease-fire 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 cease-fire went into effect at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) 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 cease-fire was announced.
Thousands of residents of southern Israeli communities hard hit by 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 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deliberately not put the cease-fire to a vote in his security Cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue the fighting.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, a veteran 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.
While tens of thousands of Gazans 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 a victory celebration.
In the last 72 hours of the war, Israel had extended its attacks from crowded working class neighborhoods 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 cease-fire agreement more or less on Israel’s terms.