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Middle east

Truce holds as Israeli troops withdraw


Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-01-20

A tenuous ceasefire holds in the Gaza Strip as Palestinians assess the extent of damage incurred during a 22-day Israeli offensive targeting Hamas militants. The territory now faces renewed political uncertainty even as Israeli troops withdraw.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip returned to some sort of daily life on Monday amid the desolation, as a tenuous truce between Israel and Hamas held for a second day.

“Many Palestinians were evacuated and now with the truce declared on both sides, they are able to come back and assess the damage and collect their dead,” reports FRANCE 24’s Sophie Claudet from Jabaliya, in the north of the Gaza Strip, “Some of them are completely at a loss and wonder how they are going to cope.”

More than 100 bodies have been recovered from under the rubble since Israel ended its massive three-week offensive on Hamas at the weekend. The truce has given rescue workers a chance to access areas where some of the fiercest clashes took place. At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the assault on Hamas, Gaza medics say.

On Monday, Gaza authorities focused on assessing the damage and clearing the streets of the rubble. Many shops remained closed. Early estimates of the damage released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics say that at least $1.9 billion will be needed to rebuild the Gaza Strip.

A source in Gaza’s Hamas-run administration said 5,000 homes, 16 government buildings and 20 mosques were destroyed, and 20,000 houses damaged.

“The destruction here is beyond anything seen before,” Claudet says. “It feels like Gaza was struck by an earthquake.”

A fragile truce

Heavy Israeli bombardments and land operations stopped after Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire late on Saturday, though the country warned it would retaliate against any rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip. Of the 13 Israelis who have died since the hostilities began, three were civilians killed by rocket fire.

Hours later, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups announced a ceasefire, saying they would observe it provided the Israeli army left Gaza within a week.

On Sunday, some 17 rockets hit southern Israel despite the ceasefire. Israel responded with two air strikes against launching sites.

However, on Monday, no major incidents were reported and the Israeli army confirmed that troops had started to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

As relative calm returned to the Strip, many residents are still without electricity, food and running water. Israel agreed to let nearly 200 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid into aid-dependent Gaza, an official said.

Palestinian unity

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for the formation of a national unity government between his Fatah movement and its Hamas rivals.

"What is required today... is to form a (Palestinian) national unity government which will then conduct presidential and legislative elections simultaneously," Abbas said at an Arab economic summit in Kuwait.

Hamas threw their Fatah rivals out of Gaza in deadly fighting in June 2007, and Abbas’s Fatah-led government in the West Bank broke ties with Hamas.


Date created : 2009-01-19