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Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire Holds           08/27 06:21

   An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the 
Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday, as many people on both sides of the conflict 
wondered what was gained during 50 days of fighting.

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian 
militants in the Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday, as many people on both sides 
of the conflict wondered what was gained during 50 days of fighting.

   The Gaza war --- the 3rd round of fighting since the Islamic militant group 
Hamas seized power in 2007 --- left more than 2,200 people dead, caused 
widespread destruction in the densely populated coastal territory, and 
paralyzed large parts of southern Israel during much of the summer.

   After more than seven weeks of fighting, the two sides settled for an 
ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though 
badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal 
intact. Israel and Egypt will maintain a blockade tightened seven years ago, 
despite Hamas' long-running demand that the border restrictions be lifted.

   Early Wednesday, the Israeli military said there were no reports of 
violations since the cease-fire went into effect at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Tuesday.

   Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that 
killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 
homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, 
including two by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was 
announced.

   Thousands of residents of southern Israeli communities in range of Hamas 
rocket and mortar fire fled their homes in favor of safer areas, amid 
increasing bitterness over the government's conduct of the war.

   Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had 
deliberately not put the cease-fire to a vote in his security Cabinet because 
of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue the fighting.

   Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, a longstanding security hawk, lambasted the 
Israeli leadership in comments to Israel Radio early Wednesday for "wanting 
peace at any price," an approach that he said would undermine Israel's ability 
to deter militants.

   Netanyahu came in for particularly piercing criticism from veteran political 
commentator Nahum Barnea, whose columns frequently crystallize the feelings of 
ordinary Israelis.

   "Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, 
someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his 
public," he wrote in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "Instead 
they received a slick spokesman and very little else."

   In Gaza, life was slowly returning to normal Wednesday, as traffic policemen 
took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting 
thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. 
Harried utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure 
damaged by weeks of Israeli airstrikes.

   "We are going back today," said farmer Radwan Al Sultan, 42, as he and some 
of his seven children used an overloaded three-wheeled tuk-tuk to return to 
their home in the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. "Finally we will 
enjoy our home sweet home again."

   While tens of thousands of Gazans dutifully heeded Hamas calls to flood the 
streets of Gaza City and other Gaza communities late Tuesday night, many 
appeared to be more interested in enjoying their freedom from Israeli air and 
artillery strikes rather than participating in any kind of victory celebration.

   In the last 72 hours of the war, Israel had extended its attacks from 
crowded working class neighborhoods where support for Hamas is strong to a 
number of less militant areas, in a possible attempt to leverage middle class 
opinion to pressure the group to accept a cease-fire agreement more or less on 
Israel's terms.

   Some Gaza residents expressed optimism that Egyptian-brokered talks 
scheduled to go forward in Cairo in the coming weeks will ultimately result in 
realizing the key Hamas demand of opening a seaport and airport in the 
territory.

   While that seems unlikely --- Hamas would have to accede to Israel's own 
demand of giving up its arsenal of rockets and other weapons --- Gaza fisherman 
Ahmad al-Hessi exulted in Israel's apparent agreement to extend from three to 
six nautical miles the maritime territory open to Gazan fishermen.

   "We heard last night we are allowed to fish six miles and it will be 
extended to 12 miles during negotiations," he said. "There is nothing better 
than this."

   Meanwhile spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna of the U.N. agency assisting Gaza 
refugees said the agency is evaluating how many people will have to remain in 
its network of local schools because their homes were damaged or destroyed in 
the fighting with Israel.

   He said that with the already delayed Gaza school year now slated to start 
in 7-10 days, some of the agency's 150 Gaza schools will have to run extra 
shifts to accommodate the expected overflow.


(KA)


 
 
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