DOHA/GAZA - A temporary ceasefire between Israeli and Hamas forces took hold in the Gaza Strip on Nov 24, the first respite in 48 days of conflict that has devastated the Palestinian enclave.
But both sides warned that the war was far from over.
There were no reports of bombings, artillery strikes or rocket attacks, although Hamas and Israel both accused each other of sporadic violations.
The truce began at 7am (1pm Singapore time), involving a comprehensive ceasefire in north and south Gaza, the release of 13 Israeli women and child hostages by the militants later in the day and aid to flow into the besieged enclave. A number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons were to be freed in exchange.
Reuters journalists saw Israeli tanks moving away from Gaza at the northern end, and aid trucks rolling in from Egypt at the southern end.
There was no sound of Israeli air force activity above northern Gaza, nor any of the contrails typically left by Palestinian rocket fire.
In Khan Younis town in southern Gaza, which is housing thousands of families displaced from the north, streets filled with people venturing out of homes and shelters.
“We are full of hope, optimism and pride in our resistance. We are proud of our achievements, despite the pain this caused,” Khan Younis resident Khaled Abu Anzah said.
Hamas confirmed on its Telegram channel that all hostilities from its forces would cease.
But the group’s spokesman Abu Ubaida for Hamas’ armed wing later referred to “this temporary truce” in a video message that called for an “escalation of the confrontation with (Israel) on all resistance fronts”, including the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where violence has surged since the Gaza war erupted almost seven weeks ago.
The Israeli military also said fighting would resume soon.
“This will be a short pause, at the conclusion of which the war (and) fighting will continue with great might and will generate pressure for the return of more hostages,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said.
The Israeli military also advised Palestinians against returning to their homes in the northern part of Gaza, which it described as a “dangerous war zone”.
Israel launched its devastating invasion of Gaza after gunmen from Hamas burst across the border fence on Oct 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has rained bombs on the tiny enclave, killing some 14,000 Gazans, around 40 per cent of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.
Hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes to escape the violence as conditions grew ever more desperate, with food, drinking water, fuel and other basic supplies running short.
It is the bloodiest episode in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades. Israel’s stated intention is to eradicate Hamas once and for all.
Fighting raged on in the hours leading up to the truce, with officials inside Gaza saying a hospital was among the targets bombed.
The Indonesian Hospital was reeling under relentless bombing, operating without light and filled with bedridden old people and children too weak to be moved, Gaza health officials said.
Al-Jazeera quoted Director Mounir El Barsh of the Gaza Health Ministry as saying a patient – a wounded woman – was killed, and three others injured.
Hostages and aid
Additional aid would start flowing into Gaza, and the first hostages, including elderly women, would be freed at 4pm, with the total number rising to 50 over the four days, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said in Doha.
The hostages were expected to be released to the Red Cross and an Egyptian security delegation that travelled to Gaza on Nov 23, then brought out through Egypt for transfer to Israel, Egyptian security sources said.
Israel will release 39 Palestinians prisoners, among them 24 women and 15 teenagers, in the occupied West Bank, in exchange for the 13 hostages due to be freed from Gaza, a Palestinian official said.
“We all hope that this truce will lead to a chance to start a wider work to achieve a permanent truce,” he said.
Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported that fuel trucks were entering the Rafah crossing once the truce was under way.
By mid-morning, 60 trucks carrying aid had crossed from Egypt at the Rafah border point.
Two of the first trucks to enter sported banners that said: “Together for Humanity.” Another said: “For our brothers in Gaza.”
Egypt said 130,000 litres of diesel and four trucks of gas will be delivered daily to Gaza when the truce starts, and that 200 trucks of aid will enter Gaza daily.
Israel’s military said its troops would stay behind a ceasefire line inside Gaza, without giving details of its position.
“These will be complicated days and nothing is certain,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
“Control over northern Gaza is the first step of a long war, and we are preparing for the next stages,” he added.
“People are exhausted and are losing hope in humanity,” UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Nov 23 after a visit to Gaza, referring to “unspeakable suffering” in the enclave.
“They need respite. They deserve to sleep without being anxious about whether they will make it through the night. This is the bare minimum anyone should be able to have.”
Ahead of the ceasefire, fighting became even more intense on Nov 23, with Israeli jets hitting more than 300 targets and troops engaged in heavy fighting around Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City.
An army spokesman said operations would continue until troops received the order to stop.
International alarm has focused on the fate of hospitals, especially in Gaza’s northern half where all medical facilities have ceased functioning, with patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside. REUTERS