Open-ended ceasefire in Gaza holding
An open-ended ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip is holding.
The Gaza war - the third round of fighting since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007 - left more than 2,100 people dead, resulted in widespread destruction of the densely populated coastal territory and paralysed large parts of southern Israel during much of the summer.
Early today, the Israeli military said there were no reports of violations since the ceasefire went into effect at 7pm local time last night.
Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deliberately not put the ceasefire issue to a vote in his security cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue the fighting.
The UN secretary-general has welcomed the ceasefire - but warned that "any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence".
The statement by the spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said Gaza "must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian government", that the blockade of Gaza must stop and Israel's security concerns must be addressed.
It adds: "After 50 days of profound human suffering and devastating physical destruction, any violations of the ceasefire would be utterly irresponsible."
The UN statement stresses a political process that leads to two states is the only way to reach lasting peace in Gaza.
Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, a long-standing security hawk, lambasted the leadership in comments to Israel Radio for "wanting peace at any price," an approach that he said would undermine Israel's ability to deter militants.
Mr Netanyahu came in for particularly piercing criticism from veteran political commentator Nahum Barnea, whose columns frequently crystallise the feelings of ordinary Israelis.
"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 the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "Instead they received a slick spokesman and very little else."
In Gaza, life was slowly returning to normal, as traffic policemen took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. Utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure damaged by weeks of Israeli airstrikes.
"We are going back today," said farmer Radwan Al Sultan, 42, as he and some of his seven children used an overloaded three-wheeled tuk-tuk to return to their home in the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. "Finally we will enjoy our home sweet home again."
While tens of thousands of Gazans dutifully heeded Hamas calls to flood the streets of Gaza City and other Gaza communities late on Tuesday night, many appeared to be more interested in enjoying their freedom from Israeli air and artillery strikes rather than participating in any kind of victory celebration.
In the last 72 hours of the war, Israel had extended its attacks from crowded working class neighbourhoods where support for Hamas is strong to a number of less militant areas, in a possible attempt to leverage middle-class opinion to pressure the group to accept a ceasefire agreement more or less on Israel's terms.
Some Gaza residents expressed optimism that Egyptian-brokered talks scheduled to go forward in Cairo in the coming weeks will ultimately result in realising the key Hamas demand of opening a seaport and airport in the territory.
While that seems unlikely - Hamas would have to accede to Israel's own demand of giving up its arsenal of rockets and other weapons - Gaza fisherman Ahmad al-Hessi exulted in Israel's apparent agreement to extend from three to six nautical miles the maritime territory open to Gazan fishermen.
"We heard last night we are allowed to fish six miles and it will be extended to 12 miles during negotiations," he said. "There is nothing better than this."
Meanwhile spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna of the UN agency assisting Gaza refugees said the agency is evaluating how many people will have to remain in its network of local schools because their homes were damaged or destroyed in the fighting with Israel.
He said that with the already delayed Gaza school year now slated to start in seven to 10 days, some of the agency's 150 Gaza schools will have to run extra shifts to accommodate the expected overflow.