Gaza begins to count the costs after Israeli offensive

By Saud Abu Ramadan

Gaza City, May 21 (EFE).- “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) rang out from the loudspeakers of mosques in Gaza at 2:00 am Friday to mark the start of a cease-fire after the latest spasm of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, which left at least 243 Gazans dead.

For 11 days, Israeli warplanes and artillery pounded the densely populated 365 sq. km (141 sq mi) enclave, strikes that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government ordered as retaliation for rockets fired from Gaza that killed 12 people in Israel.

“We won, we won, God is great,” thousands of Gaza City residents chanted as they poured into the street overnight after hunkering down in their homes for the duration of the bombardment.

Men, women, children and the elderly – some on foot and others in vehicles – gathered in front of the ruins of buildings reduced to rubble by the airstrikes and shelling.

The crowd waved Palestinian flags and banners of the Islamic group Hamas, which governs Gaza, and some militiamen fired their guns into the air in celebration.

Israel “needs to know that it can kill us and destroy our homes, but it will never defeat us,” 33-year-old Khamis Abu Hamdan told Efe. “I saw everything on television, but when I saw this enormous and massive destruction, it made an impact on me.”

The bombing caused more than $350 million in material losses, including the destruction of 1,800 residences and severe damage to public infrastructure, according to a preliminary estimate.

Women, children and the elderly made up roughly half of the 243 fatalities, the Gaza Health Ministry said, and more than 1,900 other people were injured.

“I came to see my sister and her three children, who were wounded Wednesday in an airstrike on their house in eastern Gaza City. I wasn’t able to visit them in the hospital after they wounded because there were bombs everywhere, Amani Abu Jamous, 28, told Efe.

“But I came to visit them when the war ended,” she said inside a waiting room at Shifa Hospital.

Minutes after the truce took effect, authorities deployed teams to begin the task of searching for injured people trapped beneath the rubble.

Search efforts led to the discovery of the bodies of 10 civilians amid the ruins of a building leveled Thursday by Israeli bombs.

Even as Gazans set about rebuilding, the threat of renewed conflict looms over the territory, which is home to more than 2 million people, 70 percent of them refugees from what is now Israel.

“The re-start of the rocket attacks depends on (whether) the enemy totally halts its aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip,” a spokesman for the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said Friday.

“The leaders of the occupation are under a real test and the decision to renew rocket attacks against Israel is still on the table,” the spokesman said.

Hamas and other Palestinian militants launched more than 4,400 rockets at Israel from Gaza during the 11 days of fighting.

The eruption was spurred by events in East Jerusalem, where Israeli security forces responded to Palestinian protests against plans to evict Arabs from their homes in favor of settlers by barring Muslims from holding public gatherings in the Old City during the holy month of Ramadan.

As the disturbances grew more intense, Hamas threatened a military response and the first rocket barrage from Gaza came on Monday, May 11, hours after Israeli forces raided Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. EFE


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