Palestinian children stand at the heavily damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza City's al-Shejaea neighbourhood on Tuesday as a 72-hour humanitarian truce went into effect after a month of fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces. Photo: AFP
Fighting has stopped in Gaza after a long month. There was no whistling of a bomb being dropped from a plane or a shell being fired from a tank. Even the rattling sound of a machine gun was absent as a 72-hour ceasefire held for a second day.
Meanwhile, Israel said it is prepared to extend the ceasefire unconditionally amid intensified Egyptian effort.
"Israel has no problem extending the ceasefire unconditionally," an official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The current truce, which came into effect Tuesday, is due to expire at 8:00am local time tomorrow.
There was no immediate comment from Hamas. But it is expected to accept an extension of truce amid growing international pressure.
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a vigorous defence of Israel's month-long conflict "justified" and "proportionate", blaming Hamas for the heavy Palestinian civilian death toll.
"I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn't in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty," he told a news conference in Jerusalem in response to a question from the US news channel CNN.
Gaza, which enjoyed its first full day of peace yesterday, has lost 1,875 people, the vast majority civilians killed as they hid from Israeli bombardments. Its ill-equipped hospitals hold thousands of patients, many suffering from horrific injuries.
But Israel's destruction of homes and infrastructure will ensure that the possibility of Gaza having a normal existence is a distant prospect.
Its only sewage plant, built with funding from KFW, the German development agency was put out of action by three tank shells. The result is that raw sewage routed through the plant is now being dumped untreated into the sea.
For the halt to waste treatment is only part of a much wider water and sewage problem. Oxfam said on Tuesday night that the destruction by bombing of wells, pipelines, and reservoirs, caused contamination of scarce fresh water with sewage and that 15,000 tons of solid waste had seeped into Gaza streets. “We're working in an environment with a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets or washing [their] hands,” the agency said,
Frode Mauring, the UN Development Programme's special representative said that with 16-18,000 homes totally destroyed and another 30,000 partially damaged, and 400,000 internally displaced people “the current situation for Gaza is devastating”.
UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry said the destruction and death toll from the latest fighting was worse than the 2008-2009 conflict.
And Palestinian officials in the West Bank have estimated the total damage from the 29-day war as high as $6 billion.
Mauring said that the bombing of Gaza's only power station and the collapse at least six of the 10 power lines from Israel, had “huge development and humanitarian consequences”. Majdi Yaghi, head of distribution for the Palestinian electric company said that the power station could take six months to a year to repair but this depended on Israel allowing the importation of construction materials.
There are also worries among some aid agencies about the willingness of donors to fund rebuilding of installations which may be attacked again by Israel in future. UN chief Ban Ki-moon yesterday warned that the United Nations is ready to help rebuild Gaza but for the last time, indicating the futility in such efforts.
However, life in the battered Gaza Strip began to stir yesterday.
Shops, banks and markets reopened around the devastated enclave where residents seemed more confident that the three-day ceasefire, which began Tuesday would last.
The current truce is the longest period of calm since Israel began its military campaign on July 8 in a conflict which Gaza medics say killed at least 1,875 people, among them 430 children. Another 9,567 people were wounded in the violence.
The truce is due to expire at 0500 GMT on Friday morning with international efforts focused on finding a way to extend it beyond the initial 72 hours.
PALESTINIANS FINALLY BURY THEIR DEAD
Only since guns fell silent have volunteers come to dig graves in the sand in Rafah, Gaza's "town of martyrs", devastated by Israeli bombardment.
In neighbourhoods, houses lie flattened or ripped open by shelling. Asphalt on the road has been ripped up by the weight of Israeli tanks.
Combat in the area was so intense that local residents were trapped inside, unable to bury their dead on the same day or even the next, as Muslim tradition requires.
It was not until after Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour truce, begun on Tuesday, that residents in Rafah could start to come out and bury the dead, kept until then in chock-a-block morgues.