With Qatar now confirming that the temporary truce will begin Friday morning, ordinary Gazans may be able to breathe for the first time since Oct. 7. But for most, the task ahead is a mix of heartbreak and the most practical tasks to survive. And there’s the question hanging over all: can the ceasefire become permanent?
It’s what just about everyone in Gaza has been waiting for: a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war is expected to begin Friday, bringing a respite to more than 2.3 million people who have been living under war and siege for seven straight weeks.
By the stipulations of the deal, the truce is expected to last four days, during which time Hamas will release hostages captured during their Oct. 7 assault and Israel will release Palestinian prisoners from their jails.
While details of the negotiations continue, ordinary Palestinians know they may only have four days before the bombs start dropping and tanks start rolling again.
Some will continue sifting through the rubble, looking to find trapped family members, after searches were interrupted by new rounds of air attacks.
Other Gazans will try to find shelter in what they’ve been told are safer areas in the south of Palestinian enclave. Some will hurry back to inspect their homes, especially in the northern half of the strip where Israeli ground forces have battled Palestinian militants for weeks.
Ahmed Abu Radwan says he will try to return to his northern town of Beit Lahia, with the aim of resuming digging the rubble of his home in hopes of pulling the bodies of his 8-year-old son Omar.
The child was killed along with his mother and two cousins when an Israeli airstrike flattened several houses in the town in the early days of the war. They found three bodies, but Omar’s was still under rubble, Abu Radwan said.
His is one of about 6,500 Palestinian bodies that authorities believe are under the rubble or still in the streets, especially in the northern part of Gaza.
“We couldn’t recover him at the time,” Radwan said of Omar, adding that he will brave the risks to reach the area which is encircled by Israeli tanks. “I am desperate for this truce. I am screaming from inside. I feel helpless.”
The mourning husband and father is concerned that the four-day truce wouldn’t be enough for him and many others who lost their loved ones under the rubble. He hopes that politicians can extend the truce for a couple of more days or reach a permanent ceasefire. “We are tired,” he said.
A first pause
The ceasefire deal was brokered by Qatar, the U.S. and Egypt and announced Wednesday. It came after weeks of concerted indirect negotiations between the warring parties.
Set to start on Friday morning, the ceasefire would be the first pause of fighting since the war started on October 7. The conflict was triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented raid on southern Israel, which was quickly followed by a massive Israeli air assault then ground invasion of Gaza.
I couldn’t find and bury them.
Hamas’ attack killed more than 1,200 people, including women and children, according to Israeli authorities. The militant group also captured some 240 Israelis and foreign passport holders and took them hostages inside Gaza.
In Gaza, more than 14,000 people have been killed, including about 6,000 children and 4,000 women, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, which cited figures from Gaza authorities. Thousands of others were wounded in the conflict.
In Deir al-Balah, Gaza.
Dedicated to kids
Both children were killed when an Israeli airstrike struck their home eight days ago, the man told the Saudi-owned, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily.
“I couldn’t find and bury them,” he was quoted as saying. “I will dedicate the whole truce to them.”
We have nothing to do with all of this.
In the south, some displaced people say they would search for shelters, where they can find food and water for their children.
“We don’t have anything to feed the kids,” said Amal al-Sheikh, who fled Gaza City earlier this month. The mother of five children said they couldn’t find a shelter and they have camped outside a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis for the past three weeks. “Our life was ruined,” she said.
She is concerned that the war would resume after the truce, saying that people are desperate for a permanent ceasefire.
“We want this war to stop, so we can return to our homes ... we have nothing to do with all of this,” she said.
Taher al-Nouno, a Hamas media adviser, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that indirect negotiations would continue to establish a permanent ceasefire.
Israel’s government, meanwhile, said it would resume fighting after the truce. It has agreed on the ceasefire under mounting pressure from the families of the hostages, and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration that advocated for a pause in the fighting to help release hostages.
“The war is continuing,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a news conference late Wednesday, “until we achieve all of our goals: return all of the hostages, eliminate Hamas.”