Palestinians were still coming to terms with the scale of devastation in Gaza on the second day of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Wednesday, even as the two sides engaged in diplomacy in Egypt to hammer out a long-term truce. The 72-hour ceasefire, which came into effect on Tuesday, has brought relief to millions on both sides after one month of fighting killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.
Tens of thousands of Gaza residents who were displaced due to heavy shelling from Israel, began returning back from the UN shelters, only to find their homes and businesses in ruins. Shops, banks and markets reopened across Gaza as people started repairing damaged property with emergency services clearing rubble to search for bodies in the worst hit areas.
For most Palestinians, rebuilding their shattered lives is still a distant goal. Their immediate challenge is to secure basic necessities, like water, food and shelter. Running water is scarce and there are only about two-to-four hours of electricity a day, according to the UN. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been sheltering around 270,000 people in its school buildings in Gaza. Meanwhile, indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives are taking place in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Egyptian mediators were shuttling between the two delegations, relaying each side’s demands. Frantic efforts were to try to secure a lasting peace after mediators met an Israeli delegation during the night and were to relay their demands to a Palestinian team.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged both sides to use the ceasefire to move towards broader negotiations. Kerry told the BBC that the situation could “concentrate people’s minds” on the need to negotiate a two-state solution.
Israel is calling for Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza, to disarm. Hamas, meanwhile, wants an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, a measure Israel says is necessary to stop weapons being smuggled in. The latest Gaza conflict is the third in less than six years. Previous ceasefires have brought calm for a matter of months or years, but failed to tackle the broader issues. Around 520,000 Gaza residents were displaced during the current conflict, according to the United Nations. That’s about 29 per cent of the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants. The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, an already crowded and impoverished territory.