GAZA CITY: Shopkeepers reopened and fishermen put out to sea yesterday as Gaza’s 1.8 million people breathed a collective sigh of relief after a truce ended 50 days of bloodshed.
For the most part, there was a sense of hope on the streets after the surprise ceasefire came into force at 1600 GMT on Tuesday, ending seven weeks of violence which killed more than 2,140 in Gaza and 70 on the Israeli side.
“Victory is ours,” enthused Ehab Abu Jalal, a man in his 30s.
“We have had enough of war, no one should have to endure everything we’ve been through because of the war,” he said.
“This truce has to last.”
Under the terms of the deal, Israel has pledged to ease restrictions at its border crossings with Gaza in a move which a Palestinian official said amounted to a lifting of its eight-year blockade.
Although talks on crunch issues such as Hamas’s demand for a port and an airport in Gaza were delayed for fresh talks in Cairo within the next month, just the mention of them was reason enough for optimism.
“We are going to have a port and an airport, the crossings will be opened, the blockade will be lifted and we will be able to live in dignity,” Abu Jalal beamed.
For the moment, he is supporting his family as well as his four brothers, all of whom are unemployed construction workers, on what he earns as a metalworker.
Israel first imposed a blockade on the impoverished Gaza Strip in 2006 after militants captured a soldier in a deadly cross-border raid.
A year later, when Hamas seized full control of the territory, it slapped even tighter restrictions on the passage of goods, blocking the import of construction materials on the grounds they could be used by militants to build fortifications.
For Abu Jalal, an end to the blockade would mean an influx of new materials and a chance for him and his brothers to start working again.
The truce agreement also included an expansion of the fishing zone to six nautical miles in a measure which went into force before dawn yesterday.
“It’s basically the limit that we were used to before the war, so for the moment we haven’t actually gained anything,” said Nizar Ayash from the Gaza fishermen’s union.
During the day, fishing boats’ motors spluttered into action for the first time in weeks, as fishermen headed out into the Mediterranean, eager to revive their livelihoods.
“During the war, when a fisherman went in to the sea, even just 100 metres (yards), the Israelis would fire at him,” Ayash said.
Today, the fact they can go out at all means they can get back to earning enough to be able to feed their families.
A fisherman beamed as he held up a fish from his first catch of the day. Although the agreement speaks of a gradual expansion of the fishing limit to 12 nautical miles, it is still far from the 20 miles written into the 1994 Oslo peace accords, which has been drastically reduced by Israel.
“Palestinian fishermen demand their right to fish up to 20 miles from the coast,” Ayash said, adding that what they really wanted was for Israel to “stop controlling all of our movement”.
Fellow fisherman Abu Ahmed is not at all optimistic.
“For the moment, nothing has changed on the ground and we are used to the enemy breaking all of its promises,” he said.
“With all the sacrifices we have made, we must be able to fish further out than six miles,” he said.
And sacrifice they have. During 50 days of violence, more than 2,140 Palestinians have been killed, more than 11,000 have been wounded and more than half a million displaced, while hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed.
Jawad Ayad returned to his home on Wednesday after being away for 38 days.
Although it was partially destroyed, he said Gaza’s “patience” had paid off in the end.
“We have been through difficult days and made a lot of sacrifices, but God has granted us victory,” said Ayad, a man in his 50s.
“I hope that this war will be the last.”