Temporary Saturday Ceasefire Allows Gaza Residents to Return Home, Survey Damage

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 26 2014 11:21 AM

Temporary Saturday Ceasefire Allows Gaza Residents to Return Home, Survey Damage

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A Palestinian woman walks across the rubble of destroyed buildings and homes in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City on Saturday.

Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Early on Saturday morning, the shooting in Gaza stopped as a temporary humanitarian ceasefire agreed to by Israel and Hamas went into effect. The 12-hour stoppage began at 8 a.m. local time to allow Gaza residents who have fled the shelling, to return home to recover the dead and stock up on essential supplies, including food. Israel's military agreed to stop its offensive during the ceasefire, but pledged to continue searching for tunnels used by militants on Saturday. “At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce,” a Palestinian health official tells the BBC. “That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.”

The brokered humanitarian deal appears to be holding better than a previous 2-hour humanitarian ceasefire earlier this week, which fell apart almost as soon as it started. As the death toll of the now 19-day old Israeli offensive topped 1,000, Secretary of State John Kerry attended negotiations in Paris that are attempting to find a broader, deeper agreement to bring a sustained halt to the fighting. “Mr. Kerry has proposed a two-stage plan to halt the fighting — a weeklong truce, during which negotiations would start on the principal economic, political and security concerns about Gaza,” the New York Times reports. Kerry rebutted reports that Israel had rejected the week-long proposal. "There was no formal proposal submitted to Israel," Kerry said, according to the Guardian. "Let's make that absolutely crystal clear. Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu called me a few minutes before this to tell me that that [rejection] was an error, and he's putting out a statement to that effect ... It's fair to say that Israel had some opposition to some concepts, but that doesn't mean a proposal by any means."

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“Before the truce began, Israeli strikes killed at least 19 Palestinians overnight at a family home near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip,” according to the BBC. “Images showed relatives weeping as the bodies of five children were taken to a local morgue.” Here’s more from the BBC’s correspondent on what residents of Gaza are returning to:

In the district of Shejaiya, residents started flooding back from 08:00, despite warnings not to do so. The scene here is just astonishing - the most widespread destruction: buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50m (160ft) into the air on top of buildings, the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off. The air is pretty thick with the stench of death as people try to recover bodies and belongings. In the background I can hear a crackle of gunfire. Although a humanitarian ceasefire is in place, clearly people are still shooting. There is an Israeli drone flying overhead, and we've heard the sound of fighter jets. I think people feel they have a brief window of opportunity to do as much as they can and then frankly get out of here.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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