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Gaza begins rebuilding as ceasefire holds

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-23

Gazans took their first steps toward a return to normalcy on Thursday, a day after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers brought an end to eight days of cross-border shelling.

Residents in Gaza took their first steps toward returning to normal life on Wednesday after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire halted eight days of cross-border shelling between the Hamas-ruled enclave and the Israeli army that left at least 161 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.

Israel began withdrawing its tanks from the border with the Gaza Strip as Gazans declared victory against the Israeli state.

"From the lion's den, we declare victory," said Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, the al Qassam Brigades.

Hamas's most recent show of force also seemed to be resonating with ordinary Gazans.

"This is a great period for us. It is a time of victory over our enemy and the enemy of God and this is one of the greatest joys that the Muslims have had," one man told FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick on the streets of Gaza.

In the hours following the official start of the ceasefire at 7pm GMT on Wednesday, jubilant crowds celebrated in Gaza’s streets -- most waving the green flags of Hamas, but hundreds also flying the yellow emblems of Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Despite the sense of Palestinian unity in victory, fundamental divisions remain between the Islamist Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist and calls for armed resistance, and Fatah, which has turned to non-violent methods in its quest for a Palestinian state centred in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Back to work

Palestinians wielding shovels and sandbags worked to reopen the indispensable tunnels that are used to smuggle goods from Egypt to Gaza, while the World Health Organisation and other aid agencies rushed to replenish depleted medical supplies through a border crossing opened by Israel.

Workers said the air bombardment destroyed more than two-thirds of the cross-border tunnels that bring cement, fuel and food -- as well as weapons -- into the coastal enclave, which has been blockaded by Egypt and Israel since Hamas began its rule there in 2007.

Despite the truce, Israel has said it will not lift the Gaza blockade. The Rafah border crossing with Egypt also remained mostly closed to traffic on Thursday. The main commercial crossing, Kerem Shalom, was closed on Tuesday after it was hit by mortars but has since resumed operations.

Gaza farmers, fisherman and traders were especially hard-hit by the fighting, with many skipping work for the past week to avoid the shelling.

Now that it is once again safe to travel, Gaza’s streets are packed.

The al-Qishawi supermarket in downtown Gaza City teemed with families on Thursday morning as clerks wheeled carts laden with canned goods to restock the aisles.

Everything seems to have radically changed just from one day to the next, Hussein Qishawi, who was checking out groceries with a scanner, told Reuters. “Yesterday people were stuck in their houses, and when they came, they bought enough to last them for days,” he said. “Now we’re almost back to normal, thank God.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-11-22

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