A Palestinian woman walks past a burned car in northern Gaza, Jan. 19. While tensions remain high, a cease-fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas is still holding.
A Palestinian woman walks past a burned car in northern Gaza, Jan. 19. While tensions remain high, a cease-fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas is still holding. David Gilkey/NPR
A fragile cease-fire appears to be holding in the Gaza Strip, with Israeli officials pledging to withdraw troops from the region by the time President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in Tuesday.
Israel announced its cease-fire Saturday night. Militant shelling continued for several more hours until Hamas announced its own cease-fire, giving Israeli troops one week to leave Gaza.
As the firing stopped, European and Arab leaders met in Egypt on Sunday, pledging support for rebuilding Gaza and calling for an end to arms smuggling — a key Israeli demand. But the details of a coordinated multinational effort to block weapons into Gaza have yet to be finalized.
The leaders also called for the opening of Gaza's border crossings, one of Hamas' key demands.
Six European leaders then traveled to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"We don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible," Olmert said at the meeting.
Border Crossings A Pivotal Point
Martha Myers, country director for CARE International in Gaza says Israel must open up more than one border crossing to enable aid shipments to get in.
The Karem Sholem border crossing can handle about 150 trucks a day, but "the Gaza Strip needs a minimum of 500 truck loads of material a day for its basic needs," Myers said.
That doesn't begin to include material for reconstruction; aid teams are only beginning to assess those needs, which they anticipate will be in the billions of dollars.
Reactions in Israel to the cease-fire are mixed. Israelis living in the South say they want the offensive to continue until Hamas is completely disabled and unable to launch rockets.
An overwhelming majority of Israelis supported the offensive. Now, the debate begins on how it was conducted and what was achieved. And these debates are likely to intensify in the coming weeks as Israeli politicians resume campaigning for elections to be held in early February.
Eyal Megged, a commentator in the right-of-center tabloid Maariv, writes that this war presumed to change the situation. But regrettably, Megged concludes, the situation will only change for the worse, to a poisoned situation filled with hatred.
A Personal Appeal
Israeli officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians but one case has drawn Israeli attention, raising questions that the shelling of faceless individuals in U.N. schools or the U.N. compound could not.
Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish had three daughters killed by an Israeli attack.
Abuelaish had been a fixture on Israeli TV during the war and someone Israelis had come to know. He was sympathetic, a Palestinian who believed in coexistence. But in the final days of the fighting, he became one of the victims.
His case has led some commentators to ask if there was an excessive use of force.
Abuelaish has been evacuated to an Israeli hospital, where a fourth daughter is being treated for injuries.
He says he hopes his children's deaths are not in vain and that his family's tragedy will open the eyes and minds of Israelis to what has happened in Gaza. He says there were no militants in his house and is demanding an investigation.
"I fully believe in the moral of the Israeli leaders. I count on their professionalism, that they are serious, and they have the courage to say the truth — they committed a mistake," Abuelaish said.
Unlike other instances where Israeli officials were quick to say Hamas was to blame, the Israeli military says it is still investigating Abuelaish's case.