A mountain of trash sits in Gaza City after days without landfill access. A stream of raw sewage has poisoned the Mediterranean since an Israeli airstrike against Hamas disabled a pumping station in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian civilians are down to two or three hours of electricity a day, flowing in from Israel and Egypt. But at least the explosions have stopped after a month of war, leaving things quiet for a few precious hours.
Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire at 8 a.m. Tuesday. On Wednesday evening, local time, both sides continue to respect the truce, marking the longest period of peace since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8. Egyptian mediators started indirect talks between the warring parties Wednesday morning in Cairo, creating the fragile possibility of a border deal after weeks of violent impasse.
“The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and start reconstructing Gaza,” said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate. “There can be no deal without that.” Israel’s top concern remains disarming Hamas, a goal the nation took great strides towards in recent days.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew all troops from Gaza on Tuesday after destroying 32 Hamas tunnels burrowed under the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers invaded Gaza in July for the first time in years to knock out the underground network, a once invaluable tool for terrorist kidnappings and surprise attacks. Hamas built the tunnels using Israeli cement, which has entered Gaza by the truckload since the beginning of 2014. The IDF estimated each tunnel cost $3 million and used 350 truckloads of supplies that might have otherwise been used to build Palestinian homes, mosques, schools, and medical clinics.
The Gaza Health Ministry reports almost 1,900 Palestinians dead in Gaza. The United Nations claims about 75 percent of the casualties are civilian, though estimates on the Palestinian toll vary dramatically. Israel lost 67 lives in the past month, three of them civilians. Hamas fired 3,360 rockets at Israel, and Israel launched airstrikes on 4,672 targets in Gaza. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 584 rockets headed toward high population centers or important structures in Israel.
Last Friday’s ceasefire collapsed after 90 minutes. Hamas insurgents surprised Israeli soldiers at a tunnel opening in the morning, killing two men and capturing a third, 23-year-old Hadar Goldin. Israel responded with heavy tank and artillery fire in Rafah, trying to cut off kidnappers in the Strip city where Goldin disappeared. The IDF “Hannibal Protocol” requires soldiers to avoid capture at all costs, even if it means risking the lives of men like Goldin. In 2011, Israel traded 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, 477 of them convicted terrorists, to ransom the life of one kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Several sources reported more than 100 Palestinians dead after the Rafah shelling. Tawfig Barbakh, 67, a Rafah resident with a badly damaged home, recounted the attack: “I don’t know how many shells landed every minute, but it felt like 20 or 30. It was like the gates of hell opened on us."
The IDF declared Goldin dead on Sunday morning. At the funeral that evening, his fiance of several weeks, Edna Sarusi, spoke through tears to a crowd of thousands, saying she wanted to be his bride, never thought he’d leave her so quickly, and had no idea what to do now.
The current ceasefire will last until Friday morning, as long as Israel and Hamas both respect the agreement. Calev Myers, a Jerusalem lawyer and founder of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, told me his concerns about the pause in violence: “Right now the international community is speaking about contributing billions of dollars of aid to help rebuild Gaza. This will likely buy some peace and quiet from Hamas. But if the money is not carefully monitored, a large amount of it will end up in the private bank accounts of Hamas leaders, as well as going to build more terror tunnels and buy more rockets.”