The National / May 22, 2021
The UN has pledged to lead reconstruction efforts in Gaza but the underlying causes of conflict remain unchanged.
Gazans took stock on Saturday of the scale of devastation from the blistering war with Israel, while diplomatic efforts stepped up to make a ceasefire stick despite ongoing violence in Jerusalem.
The 11-day conflict forced more than 100,000 people from their homes, according to the latest United Nations figures, and hit essential infrastructure including hospitals, electricity and water supplies.
While most of those sheltering in schools and with families returned home after a pre-dawn truce on Friday held, Gaza’s recovery could take years.
“I’m going to attempt to put together a major package, with other nations who share our view, to rebuild the homes,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday.
The president vowed to fund Gaza reconstruction “without providing Hamas the opportunity to rebuild their weapon systems”.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and other militant groups fired more than 4,300 rockets at Israel during the conflict, according to the Israeli military. Israel has not given a precise figure of the number of air strikes it launched, though a military official on Friday said “thousands” of targets were hit in Gaza.
Sixty-six children were among 248 Gazans killed, while two children and eight adults were killed by rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave, according to health officials. The first medical supplies to pass through Israel arrived in Gaza on Friday, carrying vital supplies including blood bags and coronavirus vaccines.
“As [the] physical damage [in] Gaza becomes visible, we must not lose sight of damage inflicted on people,” Matthias Schmale, Gaza director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, tweeted on Saturday.
More than 1,900 Palestinians were wounded, according to the health ministry, while trauma caused by the worst fighting in seven years is thought to be widespread among the enclave’s two million residents.
In Israel, where sirens blared frequently warning of incoming fire, the Magen David Adom emergency services recorded 119 people wounded from rockets.
Although Washington has pledged to fund reconstruction in Gaza, where the UN says more than 250 buildings were destroyed, US diplomats largely stayed in the shadows during negotiations to end the war.
The ceasefire was mediated by Egypt, whose delegation met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.
“The two parties discussed developments related to the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank,” said a statement published by the Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Saturday had been scheduled as polling day for voters across the Palestinian territories, but Mr Abbas indefinitely postponed the elections last month. The president pinned his decision to scrap the first Palestinian elections in 15 years on Israel’s failure to guarantee voting in occupied East Jerusalem.
There has been widespread speculation that Mr Abbas feared his divided Fatah party would flounder against a united Hamas.
While Palestinians and Israelis enjoyed their first full day without war, the causes of the conflict were still playing out in East Jerusalem.
Sheikh Jarrah on edge
In the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, police on Saturday used stun grenades to disperse protesters who were rallying against the forced eviction of Palestinian residents.
In recent weeks Israeli police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades, foul-smelling “skunk” liquid and mounted officers against demonstrators in East Jerusalem.
On some occasions people have set off fireworks and thrown objects such as rocks and bottles at the police.
Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of police officers were wounded in the days before the Gaza war started on May 10, when Hamas fired rockets towards Jerusalem.
Hamas had earlier threatened to retaliate if Israeli security forces did not withdraw from flashpoint sites including the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Friday said medics treated multiple people hit by rubber bullets at the compound, where Palestinians had gathered for prayers and to celebrate the Gaza ceasefire.
Police said officers responded to “rioters” who threw rocks and petrol bombs. With no public commitments from Hamas and Israel beyond their agreement to hold fire, Washington will this week dispatch Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East.
The top US diplomat is expected to visit Israel, the occupied West Bank, Egypt and Jordan, bypassing Gaza because Washington has no formal relations with Hamas.
Rosie Scammell – Correspondent, Jerusalem