Gaza cease-fire affords brief respite, then a buzz of drones

Kristen ChickThe Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians thronged the streets of Gaza today during a temporary cease-fire that was immediately followed by renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas. 

For the first time in over a week, shops opened and traffic filled the streets after Israel declared a five-hour pause in attacks to allow humanitarian aid to enter. Residents who had spent the last week huddled at home for safety used the brief respite to stock up on food and basic supplies, as well as enjoy the fresh air without the threat of missile attacks.

At least 230 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its aerial bombardment on July 8. Militant groups here have launched nearly 1,400 rockets at Israel, according to the military, killing one Israeli. Israel says it is targeting Hamas with its airstrikes, and that the militants are using Palestinians as human shields. The UN said on Tuesday that at least 76 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

Israel's military said that Gaza militants had launched mortars at Israel during today's cease-fire. After the cease-fire ended, militants fired a barrage of rockets into Israel, which retaliated with several airstrikes. 

At a girls school turned shelter for displaced families in Gaza City, children played on wooden desks in the shade. Their parents said they were grateful for a few hours of calm. The families at this school had evacuated from their homes on Saturday after Israel warned civilians in their neighborhood to leave for their own safety.

Four or five families share each classroom; children sleep on thin mattresses and cooking pots are piled on a table. Sawsan Rihan, a mother of three, complained that there was little for her family to eat, and that they broke their Ramadan fast each day with only bread and canned tuna. Her neighborhood has been bombarded since she fled, and two of her cousins – who she says were members of Hamas's armed wing the Al Qassam Brigades – were killed in an airstrike this morning before the cease-fire took effect, she said.

Ms. Rihan says she hopes for a lasting cease-fire – but not on Israel's terms. “If it's a cease-fire without meeting Hamas's conditions, then we don't want it,” she says. “They must open the borders, and release the prisoners, not like before.”

That sentiment was repeated by shoppers hurrying home after the cease-fire window had closed. An agreement that ended a conflict between Israel and Gaza in 2012 stipulated that border crossings to Gaza should be opened, yet the flow of goods and people remains tightly restricted. 

Faiza Ershy carried bulging bags of vegetables and potatoes as she left Zawiya market in Gaza City. She complained she hadn't been able to shop in the past week because of the airstrikes. She also wants to see a truce, she said, “but we want our rights.” With today's truce over, she headed home to wait for the expected bombardment.

As she left the market, the streets that had been full of cars earlier were nearly empty once again, and the buzz of Israeli drones flying ahead replaced the sound of traffic. Soon the booms of airstrikes resumed, and the contrails of rockets launched from Gaza could be seen stretching into the sky. Then over the radio came reports of sirens sounding in Tel Aviv, and a report of an aerial strike in Gaza that killed three children.