GAZA — 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.”
Interactive Map | Assessing the Damage and Destruction in Gaza The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure from the current conflict is already more severe than the destruction caused by either of the last two Gaza wars.
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.
“I don’t think that any declaration here is important, who won what,” Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, told reporters in an afternoon conference call Wednesday. “What’s important is what will happen in the future.”
In Israel, many residents of the southern communities whose lives were most disrupted by the fighting remained wary of the cease-fire, and did not rush back to the kibbutzim that were evacuated. Leaders of those communities and many political commentators were harshly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for ending a battle that had cost the lives of 64 soldiers and six civilians without achieving a decisive result.
Public attention turned to the north, where the Israeli military fired on two Syrian Army positions in the Golan Heights after an Israeli soldier was wounded by what it described as “errant fire from the internal fighting in Syria.” There were reports that Syrian rebels had taken control of the Quneitra crossing, the only gateway between Syria and Israel, which is normally in the hands of a United Nations peacekeeping force.
Mr. Netanyahu, who has not spoken publicly since the cease-fire was announced, visited an air force base on Wednesday to praise pilots and others involved in the military operation, which began with airstrikes July 8 and escalated to a ground incursion 10 days later, according to a statement circulated by his office. Mr. Netanyahu was scheduled to hold a news conference along with the country’s defense minister and army chief on Wednesday evening.
“You acted in a way that inspires awe and that is extraordinarily impressive,” Mr. Netanyahu told the troops, according to the statement. “The most important thing is that we have the tools to defend the state and attack our enemy.”
But many analysts and others criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership of the campaign, in which the Israeli military said it struck 5,263 targets in Gaza, while 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.
Shimon Shiffer, a prominent columnist in the leading Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, wrote that “in a properly run country,” the prime minister would resign at this point, while Nahum Barnea, another respected Yediot voice, said Israelis had gotten “a seasoned spokesperson” for prime minister, rather than “a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public.”
Leaders from southern Israel, which bore the brunt of the daily barrages of rockets and mortars, were among the most vocal critics.
“Because it’s called a cease-fire and not a permanent agreement, it doesn’t allow us to feel any certainty or confidence with regard to the situation here in the area,” Ronit Minaker, the spokesman for the Eshkol Regional Council, which covers a 300-square-mile area near Gaza, said on Israel Radio. “As far as the rocket threat’s concerned, we’re still in the same place. Exactly in the same place. The only difference between before the fighting and now is that now residents have a very great feeling of distrust.”
Tzachi Hanegbi, the deputy foreign minister, defended Mr. Netanyahu in a separate radio interview, declaring that “Israel won — Hamas was defeated.”
Mr. Hanegbi, a Netanyahu ally from the prime minister’s Likud Party, added: “The only goal that Hamas had, to lift the siege, was not achieved. There will be no seaport, no airport, no materials will enter Gaza that can be used to build rockets or tunnels. That is the Israeli position, and will be presented as soon as negotiations resume.”
Fares Akram reported from Gaza, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.
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