Gaza Gets Foreign Aid, Israel Widens Buffer Amid Truce

Trucks rolled into the Gaza Strip bearing donated fruit and furniture as a truce took hold, while Israel narrowed the buffer zone it carved inside the territory and let Palestinian fishermen sail further into the sea.

The Egyptian-brokered truce that Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers approved was maintained for a third day while Gazans sorted through the rubble of neighborhoods demolished in Israeli air raids. Seven weeks of fighting that halted Aug. 26 killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side, according to official tallies.

Um Humman Abdul Fattah, a 40-year-old mother of six in Gaza City, said her family had no income for the past two months. “I hope the cease-fire will last and Gaza will be rebuilt so my husband, who used to work in construction, can find a job and we can stop relying on food aid,” she said, after picking up donated food.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid urged Israelis living near Gaza to return home today after fleeing northward from the barrage of cross-border rockets. “Residents of the south cannot feel abandoned,” Lapid said in an interview with the Ynet website. He said militant groups in Gaza must eventually be disarmed, a step Hamas says it won’t accept.

‘Sacred’ Weapons

The truce is meant to ease curbs on Gaza’s border crossings with Israel to let in reconstruction materials and aid, and extend fishing zones, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said. Israel hasn’t commented on the terms. Talks on other issues, brokered by Egypt, are due to resume in a month.

Hamas, a militant Islamist movement that has controlled Gaza for seven years, is classified a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. The group’s leader, Khaled Mashaal held a news conference today in Doha, Qatar, and said Hamas will not agree to disarm, as Israel has demanded, calling its weapons “sacred.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to engage in ’’serious negotiations on a political solution’’ to prevent more violence in Gaza. “The Palestinian people are not going to accept a massacre every two years,” he said in an interview on Palestine TV.

Muslim Aid

Truckloads of fruit, vegetables and canned goods brought in by the United Nations World Food Program entered the territory through the Israeli border crossing of Kerem Shalom and the Egyptian station at Rafah. Along with beds, chairs and household goods, the aid bore stamps from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Turkey, among other donor countries.

In other easing of restrictions, the Israeli army allowed Palestinians to approach within about 300 feet (100 meters) of the border fence without being fired upon, narrowing its buffer zone from about 1,000 feet, witnesses in eastern Gaza said.

Some 4,000 fishermen ventured out 6 miles (10 kilometers) into the Mediterranean, twice the area to which they were restricted during the war, according to their union. “We live by the sea and haven’t been able to eat fish” throughout the war, said Ibrahim Jibreel, 47, standing at a downtown market in Gaza City with a bag of clams.

As part of his postwar program, Abbas plans to ask the UN Security Council on Sept. 15 to set a deadline for ending Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967 that the Palestinians claim for a state, senior aide Nabil Sha’ath was quoted as saying by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an today. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 while retaining control of shared border crossings.

War Crimes

If the resolution is vetoed, the Palestinians will ask to join the International Criminal Court to press war-crimes charges, foremost against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, according to Sha’ath.

Netanyahu declared a political and military victory yesterday, hitting back at critics who said the war ended without assuring Israel’s security. A poll published today showed that Israelis questioned his assessment: Fifty-four percent of respondents said the fighting ended with no clear-cut winner. The Dialog poll of 464 people yesterday cited a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

Economic Pain

Estimates for repairing the damage wrought in Gaza by the war have ranged from the Gaza Chamber of Commerce’s $3 billion to the Gaza Housing Ministry’s estimate of as much as $8 billion.

That last assessment outstrips the size of Gaza’s $6 billion economy, which is based on fishing, farming, light industry and local services.

The conflict has hurt the Israeli economy, too, with the drop in tourism and consumer spending prompting the central bank to unexpectedly cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low this week.

The number of visitors to Israel shrank by 26 percent in July from a year earlier. Even before the fighting erupted, sluggish exports were hurting the economy, which grew an annualized 1.7 percent in the second quarter, down from 2.8 percent in the previous three months.

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