Vital humanitarian aid poured into Gaza on Thursday as residents began rebuilding their lives following a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas that experts say left no winners.
Millions in and around the war-torn coastal enclave were enjoying a second day of peace after the guns fell silent.
The truce, which went into force on Tuesday evening, saw the warring sides agree to a “permanent” halt to seven weeks of bloodshed in a move hailed by Washington and the United Nations.
Israel agreed to immediately lift restrictions on fishing, allowing boats to work up to six nautical miles from the shore in a move which went into effect early on Wednesday.
It also pledged to ease restrictions at the two crossings into Gaza, Erez and Kerem Shalom, to allow the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials.
Debate on crunch issues such as Hamas’s demand for a port and an airport, and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls to demilitarise Gaza have been postponed for another month until the sides resume talks in Cairo.
The focus is catering for the immediate needs of the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, nearly half a million of whom were forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.
From early Thursday hundreds of lorries heaped with biscuits, sweets, soft drinks and nappies, as well as humanitarian aid supplies, heaved through the Kerem Shalom crossing, an AFP correspondent said.
– Construction materials lacking –
But there were no construction materials arriving in Gaza, where countless homes have been destroyed by barrages of Israeli air, tank and artillery fire.
“The things that the people of the Gaza Strip were really waiting for — construction materials — have not got through,” Talib Abu Jaray, a 50-year old Palestinian truck driver said angrily.
Israeli rights group Gisha said the stringent security checks currently in place would have to change in order to speed up the import of building materials, otherwise reconstruction would be impossible.
“Since December 2013 Israel has been allowing in construction material for international organisations, but it’s been a narrow, time consuming and complicated process,” Gisha co-founder Sari Bashi told AFP.
“If Israel continues that approval process, it will take 100 years to rebuild Gaza,” she said.
With both sides claiming to have emerged the victors from the conflict, exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Thursday rejected any attempt to disarm his movement.
“The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda” of future negotiations with Israel, Meshaal told a news conference in Doha.
Meshaal said his group’s weaponry “guarantees that our demands will not be overlooked”, although he acknowledged that not all its conditions for a ceasefire had been met.
“Not all our demands have been satisfied… but an important part,” he said, referring to the easing of Israel’s blockade.
The Hamas leader called for Egypt, which he praised for mediating the truce, to open its Rafah crossing. “It is the duty of our brothers in Egypt to quickly open Rafah,” he said.
A World Food Programme aid convoy crossed into Gaza from Egypt on Wednesday, the fist since 2007, carrying food to last 150,000 people for five days, the Geneva-based agency said.
Another line of trucks took in 150 tonnes of medicine and medical equipment from Saudi Arabia, and 45 tonnes of health supplies arrived from an Oman welfare organisation. Turkey also sent humanitarian aid, officials said.
Palestinian officials were expected to meet their Israeli counterparts on Thursday to discuss procedures at the crossings, a Palestinian official said.
– Readying for Cairo –
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas had laid down very clear conditions for halting its fire – but had not managed to get any of its demands.
“Hamas wanted a port and airport in Gaza, the liberation of Palestinian prisoners, the mediation of Qatar and Turkey and the payment of salaries for its employees,” he said. “It got nothing.”
Ahead of a new round of talks in Cairo, at which such issues are to be debated, Israel was taking a firm stance.
“There will be no port, no airport and no entry of materials that could be used to produce rockets or build tunnels,” said Deputy Foreign minister Tzahi Hanegbi.
Israel has consistently linked Gaza’s reconstruction with its demilitarisation.