As Cease-Fire Holds, Gaza Devastation Can Be Tallied

Israeli forces suffered many more causalities than they did in the last big operation there. But they were dwarfed by casualties in Gaza. The U.N. says most of those who died were civilians.

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After a month of fighting, a 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is holding, for now at least. The big question is whether peace holds past Friday when the cease-fire is due to expire. Even if the violence is over, residents in Gaza have an enormous cleanup and reconstruction ahead of them. NPR's Alice Fordham is in Gaza.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: I meet dozens of little boys climbing on a piece of Israeli military equipment just outside the southern Gazan town of Khan Younes. They bang sticks on the wreckage, which looks like some sort of armor transport vehicle with Hebrew writing on the side and now the green flags of the militant group Hamas on the top. They praise God and the armed wing of Hamas, which led the operations against Israel and brought them this new toy once the rockets fell silent. I ask if they feel like there's been a victory here. We won, they say. It's true that 64 Israeli soldiers were killed, way more than the 10 soldiers lost during the last big Israeli operation in Gaza in 2009. But that figure is dwarfed by the number of Palestinians dead. Gaza officials say more than 1,800 died. The U.N. says that about 1,300 were civilians. Israel says it killed about 900 militants and does not target civilians. Elsewhere in Gaza, the mood is far from triumphant. And little further down the road, in the village of Khuzaa, Israeli soldiers entered during the ground invasion, and air strikes had a huge impact.

FORDHAM: Just stepping over the wreckage of someone's house. You know, these buildings haven't been damaged or shot up a bit. This is - this is like a pile of rubble. You know, the only way you can take a look at what used to be inside is to climb on it. I can see, like, a wooden front door, a set of red velvet sofas. And there's just people picking their way through, I guess seeing what could be salvaged. It's not one or two houses that looks like this. It's this entire village. You know, it just goes on and on.

FORDHAM: Across the street of the ruins of another house, I can still see gracious little white archways above the windows. Mohammad el Geraa used to live here with his parents, siblings, wife and two children. He says it cost a fortune to build. Now he's looking to see if there's one in-tact room this family can shelter in.

MOHAMMAD EL GERAA: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: We want calm, he says, to live like normal people. In Cairo, an Israeli delegation is expected to negotiate with Palestinians. This cease-fire is due to end Friday, but in Khuzaa people hope it will continue beyond that. Reconstruction is already beginning in Khuzaa, or at least the clearing of debris. People here reckon there are probably still bodies under the rubble. From the smell, it seems likely. Sheep and chickens wander amid the devastation and beyond are olive groves. This is a farming village. 25-year-old Walid Roq says what broke his heart was the destruction of the old olive trees. He tells me about showing photographs of the destruction to a village elder.

WALID ROQ: When he saw the photos, he cried a lot like a childrens. But he told us you are young men so you have to rebuild Khuzaa again.

FORDHAM: Roq wants to start by planting new olives. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Gaza.

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