A fragile ceasefire in Gaza pushed into a second day Wednesday as Israeli and Palestinian delegations prepared for crunch talks in Cairo to try to extend the 72-hour truce.
The ceasefire, which came into effect Tuesday and carried past midnight into Wednesday, has brought relief to millions on both sides after one month of fighting killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel.
Israeli and Palestinian delegations are now set for what are expected to be tough talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire after the three-day window closes.
Officials on both sides confirmed sending small teams to the Egyptian capital, but they bring conflicting demands and face an uphill diplomatic battle ahead.
The Palestinians insist Israel end its eight-year blockade of Gaza and open border crossings, while Israel wants Gaza fully demilitarized.
But after the longest period of quiet since fighting began, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said he expected “the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond.”
The United States is set to participate in the Cairo talks.
“We are determining at what level and in what capacity and when,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a BBC interview, called for a sustained ceasefire but stressed that the crucial wider issues will need to be addressed.
“How are we going to make peace? How are we going to eliminate these rockets? How are we going to demilitarize and move towards a different future?”
In Gaza City, people came out in numbers on Tuesday afternoon, children played on the street and the beach, and some shops reopened for the first time in days.
Others ventured home for the first time only to witness scenes of devastation.
“What am I going to tell my wife and children? I don’t want them to see this! They will go crazy,” said Khayri Hasan al-Masri, a father of three who returned to his heavily damaged home in Beit Hanun in the north after fleeing when Israel’s ground offensive began on July 17.
At a bullet-riddled girls’ school, an Israeli flag and an anti-Hamas slogan had been etched on the wall of a classroom, and discarded ration packs and tuna cans labelled in Hebrew littered the floor.
Up to $6 Billion Worth of Damage in Gaza
The ceasefire, announced by Egypt late on Monday, is the longest lull since fighting began.
The Palestinian health ministry said 1,875 Palestinians had been killed during the conflict, including 430 children, and said 9,567 people had been wounded, including 2,878 children.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said the 29-day war had caused total damage of up to $6 billion dollars.
Some of the worst devastation is near the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which was flattened in a massive Israeli assault that began Friday.
The United States and the United Nations have welcomed the truce, saying the onus was on Hamas to uphold its end of the deal.
Israel has been subject to increasingly harsh criticism over the high number of civilian casualties during its military operation launched on July 7.
A British parliamentary committee said Wednesday that excessive Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territories cannot be justified on the grounds they protect Israel.
The Israeli army says it destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels, struck nearly 4,800 targets and killed 900 Palestinian “terrorists.”
But human rights groups and the UN say the vast majority — between 70 and 80 percent — of those killed in Gaza were civilians.
“We expect that they still have about 3,000 rockets left. This is a challenge we have to address,” Lerner said.
(Agencies via Ma’an – www.maannews.net)