Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz (L) and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon attend a news conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Nir Elias
An open-ended ceasefire in the Gaza war is holding as as
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces strong criticism in
Israel over a costly conflict with Palestinian militants in
which no clear victor has emerged.
On the streets of the battered, Hamas-run Palestinian
enclave, people headed to shops and banks, trying to resume
the normal pace of life after seven weeks of fighting.
Thousands of others, who had fled the battles and sheltered
with relatives or in schools, returned home, where some found
In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from the
Gaza Strip fell silent.
Netanyahu told a news conference Israel had dealt Hamas its
toughest blow ever and had rebuffed its demands for a truce.
He said it was "too early to say" whether the calm would be
prolonged, then threatened the Islamist group:
"If it resumes fire, we will not tolerate a sprinkle of
shooting at any part of Israel, what we did in response now,
we will respond even more vigorously."
But Israeli media commentators, echoing attacks by members of
Netanyahu's governing coalition, voiced deep disappointment
over his leadership during the most prolonged bout of
Israeli-Palestinian violence in a decade.
Israeli opinion polls showed his popularity plummeting, such
as a survey on Channel 10 television in which viewers gave
him a grade of 55 percent, down from a 69 percent score at
the beginning of the month.
"After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organisation
killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily
routine (and) placed the country in a state of economic
distress ... we could have expected much more than an
announcement of a ceasefire," analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in
Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper.
"We could have expected the prime minister to go to the
president's residence and inform him of his decision to
resign his post."
Answering critics, Netanyahu told a news conference: "I don't
set unrealistic goals. We're not dealing here with populism."
Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them
civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed
in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an
offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket salvoes.
Israel's death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians.
The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire agreement that took effect on
Tuesday evening, called for an indefinite halt to
hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded
crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the
territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean.
A senior Hamas official voiced willingness for the security
forces of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
and the unity government he formed in June to control the
Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are
seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter Gaza, a
narrow, densely populated territory of 1.8 million people.
Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month
later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss construction
of a Gaza sea port and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in
the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for the remains
of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials
COMPETING VICTORY CLAIMS
In Gaza, several thousand Palestinians cheered and waved
green Hamas banners as the movement's deputy leader, Ismail
Haniyeh, making his first public appearance since the war,
proclaimed victory over Israel in the latest fighting.
Haniyeh boasted that the group's armed wing had fired rockets
deeper inside Israel than ever. "The victory this time is
greater than ever before," he said. A song played in the
background, whose lyrics intoned, "hit, hit, Tel Aviv."
Israel said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several
of its military leaders and destroying the Islamist group's
cross-border infiltration tunnels.
"Hamas's military wing was badly hit, we know this clearly
through unequivocal intelligence," Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu's
national security adviser, said on Army Radio.
But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two
months that caused an exodus from a number of border
communities and disrupted daily life in its commercial
"They are celebrating in Gaza," cabinet minister Uzi Landau,
of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party in Netanyahu's
coalition, told Israel Radio. He said that for Israel, the
outcome of the war was "very gloomy" because it had not
created sufficient deterrence to dissuade Hamas from
attacking in the future.
Nahum Barnea, one of Israel's most popular columnists,
expressed concern "that instead of paving the way to removing
the threat from Gaza, we are paving the road to the next
round, in Lebanon or in Gaza".
"The Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what
he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages
in a sincere and real dialogue with his public," he wrote in
Yedioth Ahronoth. "They received a seasoned spokesperson, and
very little beyond that."
Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily, said there was no
victory for Israel in a conflict that resulted in "a
collapsed tourism industry (and) an economy approaching
Israel's central bank has estimated the conflict will knock
half a point off economic growth this year.
But with diplomatic moves on Gaza's future still pending,
there was no immediate talk publicly among Netanyahu's
coalition partners of any steps to break up the alliance.
In a further sign of the truce's impact, Egypt eased
restrictions at the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, allowing
World Food Programme supplies containing a shipment of 25,000
food parcels into the coastal territory for the first time
since 2007, a statement by the humanitarian group said.
Israel has regularly permitted food and other humanitarian
goods to be shipped into Gaza across its border, during the
latest fighting as well. A government website says 5,359
truckloads of goods have transited the Kerem Shalom crossing
with Gaza since July 8, the day the seven-week conflict
Israel has said it would facilitate the flow of more civilian
goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the
impoverished territory if the truce was honoured.
But, Cohen said: "(Hamas) will...not get a port unless it
declares it will disarm. It will not get even one screw
unless we can be sure it is not being used to strengthen
Gaza's military might."