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Israel exits Gaza; truce takes hold

JERUSALEM — As a 72-hour cease-fire mediated by Egypt took hold Tuesday, Gazans emerged to view a shattered landscape with Hamas still in power, while Israel began to debate the politics, costs, and accomplishments of the monthlong war.

Israel announced the withdrawal of all its forces from the Gaza Strip, and both sides said they would engage in talks on a lasting arrangement to keep the peace. But the negotiations, also to be mediated by Egypt, are bound to be tricky, and given the participants’ antagonisms and sharply different goals, the cease-fire could still collapse. Israeli officials emphasized that their army, navy and air force remained deployed near the coastal territory, primed to respond to any attacks from Gaza.

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Since the conflict began in earnest July 8, Gaza officials say that more than 1,830 Palestinians have died, most of them civilians, with more of the dead likely to emerge as the rubble is cleared away. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

People on both sides are wondering whether the death and destruction was worth what is essentially another standoff between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that governs Gaza, and its ally Islamic Jihad, with no clear victor or vanquished. The cease-fire proposal accepted Monday night is essentially the same one that was rejected by Hamas three weeks ago, before the Israelis moved into Gaza with ground troops, and on its face it resolves little.

In Gaza City, there was little sense of celebration that the fighting had stopped, although many of those interviewed said they thought this cease-fire was more likely to succeed than previous ones, which quickly collapsed amid new violence.

Gaza’s streets on Tuesday slowly filled with cars, donkey carts, and trucks, many of them piled with the belongings of displaced families moving from one spot to another toting mattresses, kitchen supplies, and bags of clothes.

Gaza faces a major challenge in reconstruction, with its infrastructure, always shaky, badly damaged. Electrical cables are down, the only power plant is out of action, the water and sewage systems are damaged, and hospitals urgently need resupplying.

‘We lost in one instant all we had worked for 40 years to build. The only thing we gained is destruction.’

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About 260,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations, and many thousands of them remain huddled in schools or living with friends and relatives. Many have no homes to return to.

“We lost in one instant all we had worked for 40 years to build,” said Fouad Harara, 55, who had worked for decades as a laborer in Israel. “The only thing we gained is destruction.”

After remaining nearly invisible to most Gazans throughout the war, Hamas police officers emerged in some areas, patrolling in blue and white trucks and inspecting damaged neighborhoods.

New billboards had been put up recently in Gaza City, one of them showing a group of fighters and a tunnel with the words “The Tunnels of Glory” and “Passages to Arrive in Jerusalem.”

Hamas’s Al Aqsa radio station alternated between triumphant jihadi anthems and talk shows about how “the resistance” had vanquished the “Zionist enemy” with its rockets, forcing it to withdraw from Gaza.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, said that Israel had destroyed about 32 tunnels built by Hamas and leading into Israel, and that Israeli forces had killed about 900 militants, a figure that is bound to be challenged by Hamas. He said that Israel had destroyed more than 3,000 rockets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and that those groups had launched more than 3,300 rockets toward Israel. Israel said it suspected that they had 3,000 rockets left.

The cease-fire could break down over negotiations for a more durable arrangement, or it could be extended beyond the initial 72 hours. Israel is demanding security, a durable end to attacks from Gaza, and strong control over what comes in and out of Gaza, aided by the Egyptians, to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from easily rearming or building new networks of tunnels with diverted or smuggled cement.

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