Israel-Palestinian conflict: Aid arrives in Gaza as ceasefire holds

The first convoys of humanitarian aid have arrived in Gaza after a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants came into effect.

Thousands of Palestinians returned home to scenes of devastation on Friday after 11 days of fighting.

The truce was tested by fresh clashes at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

More than 250 people were killed in the conflict, which both sides have claimed as a victory.

On Friday Israelis and Palestinians assessed the damage incurred by the worst flare-up of violence since 2014.

The conflict hit Gaza particularly hard, leaving thousands displaced and hundreds of thousands with limited access to water and electricity.

“The damage inflicted in less than two weeks will take years, if not decades, to rebuild,” said Fabrizio Carboni, the Middle East director for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid pass into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing

Getty Images

The fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza began on 10 May after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension that culminated in clashes at al-Aqsa, a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza, began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

At least 248 people, including more than 100 women and children, were killed in Gaza, according to its health ministry. Israel has said it killed at least 225 militants during the fighting. Hamas has not given casualty figures for fighters.

In Israel 13 people, including two children and an Israeli soldier, were killed, its medical service says.

What’s happening in Gaza?

Various aid agencies, including those affiliated with the United Nations, started bringing much-needed supplies into Gaza on Friday, hours after the ceasefire was announced.

A key crossing into Gaza at Kerem Shalom was reopened, allowing trucks carrying medicine, food and fuel into the enclave.

Earlier in the week, Israel reopened the crossing so Gaza could receive humanitarian assistance, only to close it again soon afterwards. Israel said the closure was spurred by Palestinian militants firing mortars at the area.

For years Gaza has been subjected to Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on the passage of people and goods. Both countries cite concerns about weapons reaching Hamas.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unwra) said its priority was to identify and help tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. The agency said it was urgently seeking $38m (£26m) in aid.

More than 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and nearly 800,000 people do not have access to piped water in Gaza, according to UN Children’s agency.

Palestinian girls stand at the rubble of their destroyed house in Gaza

EPA

Palestinian girls inspect a destroyed house in Gaza

EPA

On Thursday Gaza’s housing ministry said 16,800 housing units had been damaged during the conflict. Of those, 1,800 were unfit for living and 1,000 were destroyed, the ministry said.

One Palestinian resident, Samira Abdallah Nasser, said her two-storey house was hit by a blast during the fighting, reducing it to ruins.

“We’re back to our homes and we don’t have a place to sit, we don’t have water, we don’t have electricity, we don’t have beds, we don’t have anything,” she told Reuters news agency.

“We’re back to our fully destroyed homes.”

What’s happening in Israel?

The mood was one of unease in East Jerusalem, as thousands of Palestinians gathered at the al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers.

In tense scenes, Israeli police fired stun grenades at demonstrators, who threw rocks and petrol bombs at officers. At least 20 Palestinians were injured, medics said.

Israeli police stand in position at the compound that houses the al-Aqsa Mosque

Reuters

Israelis come out of the bomb shelter at the city of Ashkelon

EPA

Emergency restrictions have been lifted while all schools are due to reopen on Sunday.

Many Jewish families emerged from bomb shelters on Friday after enduring 11 days of rocket barrages from Gaza.

The Israeli army said militants fired more than 4,300 rockets, of which 90% were intercepted by its air defences. But rockets still got through, slamming into homes, synagogues and other buildings.

Many of those rockets were fired at cities in southern Israel, such as Ashkelon.

There, Israeli mother Tammy Zamir told Reuters said was happy the conflict was over but was “certain there will be another escalation”.

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A countdown to the next conflict?

Analysis box by Tom Bateman, Middle East correspondent

Gaza’s streets are bursting back into life with the truce only hours old. It’s the first time in nearly a fortnight people have been able to go outside in relative safety. Entire families step over rubble and children tiptoe through smashed glass.

They look up at wrecked buildings but seem to take it in their stride. Perhaps seeing the aftermath is easy compared with the terrifying experience of living through the airstrikes themselves.

On one street in the heart of Gaza City is the remnants of al-Sharouq building. Its name means sunrise. It lies in charred ruins. The block was the third high-rise bombed by Israel which said militants used it.

A car drives past and a child in a keffiyeh – a Palestinian headscarf – stands out of the sunroof with his fingers in a victory sign.

Hamas is hailing its “defence of Jerusalem”. Israel says its airstrikes have set the group back strategically. People here are welcoming calm, but know it probably just means a countdown to the next inevitable conflict.

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