The banks reopened, the markets were crowded, workers began repairing downed electric lines and bulldozers cleared rubble blocking roads in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as an open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants took hold.
Life did not exactly return to normal, after a summer of more than 2,100 deaths and vast destruction. But many residents who were displaced by seven weeks of Israeli attacks returned to their homes, fishermen ventured into deeper waters again and brown-uniformed security officers spread out in border areas to make sure that no rogue rockets would be fired to threaten the fragile calm.
In the northern border town of Beit Hanoun, which was largely leveled in Israel’s ground incursion, a woman and two men arrived riding atop a truck full of mattresses and food parcels, then began moving their belongings into a three-story apartment building that was largely intact, though the windows were broken. But other residents of the town returned from more than a month of sheltering in United Nations schools to find only wreckage where their homes once stood.
“We are happy that the cease-fire is on, and killing is over,” said Mohammed Abu Ouda, 31. “We don’t know what we will do next. We will stay in the school until a solution is brought to us.”
What happens next was the crucial question being asked in Gaza, Israel and around the world after the announcement on Tuesday of a limited agreement to halt the hostilities and ease, but not eliminate, Israeli-imposed restrictions on fishing, travel and trade. The agreement, brokered by Egypt, calls for Israel to allow humanitarian aid and building materials through the border crossings it controls into Gaza. But it remained unclear who would oversee the reconstruction effort and monitor imported cement and concrete to allay Israeli concerns that it be used only for civilian purposes.
Discussion of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with demands by Hamas, the Islamist faction that dominates Gaza, for a seaport and airport in Gaza — and by Israel for the demilitarization of the territory — were put off for up to a month.