GAZA: After days of empty streets and shuttered shops, Gaza City sprang back to life Thursday during a fragile U.N.-negotiated humanitarian truce between Hamas and Israel to halt cross-border fire.
The Islamist movement and Israel began observing the five-hour cease-fire at 9 a.m. (07:00 GMT) local time, after 10 days of violence that has killed at least 230 Palestinians and one Israeli.
The cease-fire appeared to be holding several hours later, despite reports that three mortar bombs fired from Gaza hit southern Israel.
The people of Gaza City immediately took advantage, taking to the streets in their cars and forcing police to try to negotiate the traffic jams that suddenly formed.
And outside banks in the city, crowds of hundreds of people massed on ATMs, eager to withdraw money to buy supplies before the five-hour truce ended at 2 p.m..
“I’ve been borrowing money from people to get by, and now I’m going to be able to pay them back,” said Abdel-Qassam Ataneh, waiting outside a branch of the Bank of Palestine.
“The truce is a chance for people to get out of their homes and get money and supplies.
“Ramadan comes with a lot of expenses,” he added, in reference to the ongoing month of fasting.
But two and a half hours into the truce, three mortar bombs were fired from Gaza into the southern Israeli region of Eshkol, the Israeli military said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from militants in Gaza.
Before the mortar attack, Mohammad Nasr said he was happy with the brief truce, but wished the hours were longer.
“It’s not enough. People need to go out and get supplies and to get their belongings. It should have been from 7 a.m. until dusk,” he told AFP.
“We’ve been stuck in our houses during this war, because of the violence. It’s like living under curfew.”
During the cease-fire, Gaza residents rushed to restock supplies after more than a week of being mostly holed up at home for fear of Israeli airstrikes.
“The situation is likely to get worse because there is no clear way out of it,” said Moussa Amran, 43, a money changer in central Gaza City.
Hamas police directing traffic at busy intersections and at an outdoor market, shoppers filled plastic bags with fruit, vegetables and freshly slaughtered chickens.
Abdallah Jaber, 42, seized the opportunity to visit his 87-year-old father, Hosni, in a care facility for the elderly and disabled close to the Israeli border, in an area that has been targeted repeatedly the past week by the Israeli army as a launching area for rockets.
Several tank shells hit the upper floors of the five-story Wafa rehabilitation center last week, punching large holes into the wall facing the border.
Israel has demanded that the building be evacuated, but director Basman Ashi said such a trip was too risky for his 17 patients, many of them unable to walk.
Jaber said he couldn’t reach the center during 10 days of fighting and was worried about his father, who is on a respirator and suffers from dementia.
“We would call every hour to get an update on his condition,” he said.