Palestinian brothers sit on the rubble of their house in front of an apartment block in part of the northern Beit Hanun district of the Gaza Strip after a 72-hour truce accepted by Israel and Hamas came into effect yesterday. Photo: AFP
A 72-hour truce took hold in the Gaza Strip yesterday as Israel withdrew ground troops after a month of bitter fighting with Hamas and Palestinians surveyed ruined homes.
The guns fell silent after 29 days of fighting, bringing relief to millions as both sides counted the cost from a conflict that killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel.
The United States and the United Nations have welcomed the truce, saying the onus was on Hamas to uphold its end of the deal.
Officials on both sides confirmed they had sent small delegations to Cairo for talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire after the three-day window closes.
Negotiators in the Egyptian capital will likely confront conflicting demands on both sides. The Palestinians insist Israel end its eight-year blockade of Gaza and open border crossings, while Israel wants Gaza fully demilitarised.
But after the longest period of quiet since fighting began, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said he expected "the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond".
The Israeli security cabinet was also holding a meeting to discuss efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire deal.
In Gaza City, people came out in numbers, children played on the street and the beach, and some shops reopened for the first time in days.
Others ventured home for the first time only to witness scenes of devastation.
"What am I going to tell my wife and children? I don't want them to see this! They will go crazy," said Khayri Hasan al-Masri, a father of three who returned to his heavily damaged home in Beit Hanun in the north after fleeing when Israel's ground offensive began on July 17.
Gaping holes have pierced the walls of his home. There is a mortar in the living room, a bazooka upstairs.
It is the second time in four days the two sides had agreed to observe a 72-hour humanitarian truce. The last attempt on August 1 -- brokered by Washington and the UN -- was shattered within just 90 minutes.
Israeli armour and infantry left Gaza ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels dug by Islamist militants had been completed. "Mission accomplished," the military tweeted.
Troops and tanks will be "redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions", spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told Reuters, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.
The army says it destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels, struck nearly 4,800 targets and killed 900 Palestinian "terrorists".
The ceasefire, announced by Egypt late on Monday, marks the quietest period since fighting began.
However, just minutes before the truce took hold, sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Hamas fired 16 rockets over the border, while Israeli warplanes carried out at least five strikes on Gaza.
Medics in Gaza reported no new deaths or injuries since midnight.
The Palestinian health ministry said 1,875 Palestinians had been killed during the conflict, including 430 children, and said 9,567 people had been wounded, including 2,878 children.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said the 29-day war had caused damage of up to $6 billion dollars.