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|As Israel-hamas Cease-fire Holds, Gazans Survey Wreckage by selawase: 5:19pm On May 22, 2021|
There were no reports of violations of an agreement that went into effect on Friday, bringing nearly two weeks of violence to an end. A minor skirmish broke out between the Israeli police and Palestinians outside the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas held fast through its first day and into Saturday morning in the Middle East, while residents across Gaza began to assess for the first time the scale of the damage wrought by the latest round of conflict.
For tens of thousands, the first step was leaving the United Nations-run schools where at least 75,000 had sought shelter from Israeli airstrikes.
Some families emerged on Friday clutching bags and blankets, bound at last for the homes they hoped were still standing.
Others had none left to go back to.
Officials in Gaza said that about 1,000 residential units across the coastal strip had been destroyed and five residential towers brought to the ground, along with an as-yet-uncounted number of businesses.
The bombing also leveled three mosques in Gaza, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and dozens of schools, wrecked its only Covid-19 testing laboratory, and cut off fresh water, electricity and sewer service to much of the enclave.
The Israeli aerial and artillery campaign killed more than 230 people in Gaza, many of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry. More than 4,000 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since May 10, killing 12 people, mostly civilians.
The damage in Gaza is not only a personal disaster for thousands of people and a humanitarian concern for the territory’s two million residents, but also the fertile soil out of which the next military conflict could grow.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that anyone in Israel, or anywhere, thinks that having an impoverished, besieged, angry, young, traumatized, starved population in Gaza is somehow in anyone’s interest, or could in any way produce stability or safety for anyone,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “It just means it’ll happen all over again.”
On Friday, rescue work was still underway hours after the cease-fire took effect at 2 a.m. Workers digging in what appeared to be a destroyed Hamas tunnel found five bodies and pulled about 10 survivors from the rubble.
Gaza is blockaded by its two neighbors, Israel and Egypt, with Israel saying that it must tightly control access to prevent Hamas from gaining military capabilities and Egypt acquiescing for its own complex political and security reasons.
That means Gazans’ ability to import and export from the territory, get access to medical care outside it or fish off its coast is limited. Unemployment tops 50 percent. Almost no one can leave.
After the last war, in 2014, Israel and Hamas were scheduled to discuss easing the blockade in exchange for disarming Hamas, but little progress was made. The damage then was far more extensive.
Mr. Biden’s strategy of quiet diplomacy was intended to build credibility with the Israelis, in order to privately push them toward an end to the violence in a final conversation with Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday. And it took into account the need to tread carefully with Mr. Netanyahu.
Aware of the mistakes made by the United States in trying to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Mr. Biden and his team did not want the United States to become the focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create space for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he will need as a partner in the future in dealing with Iran, to achieve his objectives.
“Israel and the United States are going to have big things to work out, in particular Iran,” Mr. Haas said. “The president had to be careful in how he handled Bibi. Both needed to maintain a working relationship so that if and when the Iran situation moved to the front burner, they would be able to work together.”
Mr. Biden began his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu by making no demands. That helped to pave the way for a gently worded statement that came after their third phone call, in which Mr. Biden said he would support a cease-fire, but stopped short of demanding one.
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