Residents of the rocket-scarred southern Israeli town of Sderot enjoyed a bright summer day made brighter still by the silence of the public air-raid system yesterday, the first day of a truce between Israel and Islamic militants across the border in the Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, the promise of a lull in Israeli air and artillery strikes emboldened youngsters on bicycles to ride closer than usual to the border fence. Militants often launch rockets and mortar shells from the area, drawing Israeli fire in response.
“It’s peace today,” said Osama Helas, a 16-year-old Palestinian, as he rode along the Gaza side with two friends. “This is the first time that there is no sound of shelling or shooting. I hope that we will be able to enjoy our lives like this every day.”
The truce — meant to last six months — took effect early yesterday between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The ceasefire, which Egypt labored for months to conclude, obliges Hamas to halt attacks from its territory and says Israel must cease its raids. If the quiet holds, Israel will ease its blockade of Gaza on Sunday to allow the shipment of some supplies to resume. A week later Israel is to further ease restrictions at cargo crossings.
Sderot, less than 1.5km from the Gaza frontier, has borne the brunt of Palestinian attacks over the past seven years, during which rocket and mortar fire has killed 13 people, wounded dozens more, caused millions of dollars in damage and made daily life unbearable. More than 1,000 projectiles have exploded in the town of around 20,000 people over the past year alone.
Yesterday morning, one local man who did not give his name, showed reporters his brand new car, hit by a mortar shell the day before as it stood outside his house. With only 100km on the clock, its windows were blown out and the bodywork gouged and ripped by shrapnel. The house and its occupants were unscathed.
Another resident, Motti Lishar, said he was confident that Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron hand, would keep militants in line.
“I believe that there will be quiet for the next six months, because anyone who tries to fire will get his hand chopped off,” he said. “When Hamas makes a promise, they keep it.”
Dropping his granddaughter at a neighborhood kindergarten, Eliezer Ashurov said he hoped for the best, but feared the worst.
“If there is a chance of a ceasefire then that is always a good thing, a truce is always the right thing,” he said. “But it needs to stand the test of time, time will tell.”
Across the border in Gaza, civilians have also paid dearly for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with women, children and the elderly repeatedly caught in crossfire or killed in Israeli strikes aimed at nearby militant targets.
Six-year-old Hadeel al-Smari was killed last week by a missile fired from an Israeli aircraft in the southern Gaza Strip.
Her cousin Ahmad, 38, said the collapse of past ceasefires left him with little confidence in the latest attempt.
“I don’t know how long this calm will last and how many hours, days we will have without shootings, shelling and tanks coming in and out,” he said.
“We want a real end to all violence, to feel like we are human, to sleep without fear and to farm without fear, to eat, drink, study, travel. I don’t think that Israel is ready to give that to us now,” he said.
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