Members of Al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Hamas group, march in Gaza City on May 22, 2021 (AFP)
GAZA CITY: Egyptian mediators sought to reinforce a day-old ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants on Saturday, and aid officials appealed for a period of calm to start tackling a humanitarian crisis in Gaza after 11 days of fighting.
The ceasefire, which began before dawn on Friday, was still holding on Saturday evening, enabling officials to start assessing the scale of the damage. Despite confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at a Jerusalem holy site on Friday, there were no reports of Hamas rocket launches from Gaza or Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave overnight or on Saturday.
Rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups paralysed towns in Israel during the hostilities, and caused widespread panic, but did much less damage than the bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars in Gaza, where officials said 248 people were killed in the fighting.
A senior UN official who toured Gaza City Saturday warned of increased health risks and widespread despair after homes, roads and other vital infrastructure including hospitals were damaged or destroyed. “Everybody just needs to stand down and not to engage in any provocative moves,” Lynn Hastings, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said. Medics said rocket attacks had killed 13 people in Israel before the ceasefire.
After mediating the ceasefire with US support, Egypt sent a delegation to Israel on Friday to discuss ways of firming up the truce, including with aid for Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas officials said. The delegates have since been shuttling between Israel and Gaza, and on Saturday met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, an aide to the Palestinian leader said.
A source familiar with planning said US secretary of state Antony Blinken would visit Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday, hoping to build on the ceasefire. Mahmoud, however, has little influence in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the US would work with the UN on bringing humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Gaza, with safeguards against funds being used to arm Hamas, which the West deems a terrorist group.