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Gaza officials say terms of ceasefire being implemented

Aug. 27, 2014 6:40 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2014 1:25 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israel authorities have begun implementing the terms of a ceasefire agreement that went into effect early Tuesday, officials in Gaza said, as life slowly began returning to normal after 50 days of bombardment on the besieged coastal enclave.

As Palestinian farmers returned to their fields and fishermen began venturing out to the sea again, the situation had noticeably improved from before the war.

Officials told Ma'an that farmers were able to tend to fields around 100 meters from the border fence, suggesting that the Israeli security buffer zone has been drastically reduced from its previous range.

Before Israel's recent Operation Protective Edge, Israeli forces opened fire on those who entered the buffer zone, which ranged from 500-1500 meters from the border and encompassed 17 percent of Gaza's total land area and 35 percent of its agricultural land, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of more than 100,000 Gazans.

The effects of the newly-signed long-term ceasefire agreement could also be witnessed on the sea, where Gaza's 4,000 fisherman cautiously began venturing out again after being shot at numerous times by Israeli forces in recent weeks.

Secretary-General of the Union of Fishermen Muhammad Basala told Ma'an that fishermen had been allowed to sail as far out as six nautical miles during recent trips, a number he said was set to expand under the terms of the deal.

They will be allowed to sail out as far as nine nautical miles a week from now and 12 miles after a month from now, he added.

Prior the recent agreement, Israeli forces maintained a limit of three nautical miles on all Gaza fishermen, despite earlier Israeli agreements which had settled on a 20-mile limit. The restrictions crippled Gaza's fishing industry and impoverished local fishermen.

Officials in the Palestinian liaison department, meanwhile, told Ma'an that Israel had opened the Erez crossing near Beit Hanoun between Israel and northern Gaza Strip, highlighting that the crossing was operating just as it did before the war.

Patients, merchants and passenger who made special coordination were all allowed to travel into Israel Wednesday, the officials said.

The long-term ceasefire which came into effect on Tuesday also includes the opening of crossings for goods and aid under heavy Israeli supervision, which Palestinian negotiators say will signal the end of Israel's crippling eight-year long blockade of the Strip, long a key Palestinian condition.

An Israeli demand that the Gaza Strip be demilitarized, meanwhile, was not mentioned, and although Israeli officials said it would be raised in a second round of negotiations in late September, it was unlikely to be agreed upon by the Palestinian side.

The deal comes after more than 50 days of intense Israeli bombardment across the Gaza Strip that killed 2,143 Palestinians and injured more than 11,000, the vast majority of whom were civilians according to UN figures.

Seventy Israelis also died in the fighting, 64 of whom were soldiers. The majority were killed when they encountered heavy resistance from Palestinian fighters after launching a ground invasion of Gaza.

Normalcy returns to Gaza streets

Despite the scenes of destruction and the memories of bombings and thousands of victims, Gazans stayed up until the late hours Tuesday night celebrating what many were calling a major victory for the Palestinian resistance.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the streets of the tiny coastal enclave looked different than they had for the last seven weeks.

Public transportation vehicles, including yellow service taxis and orange shuttle vehicles filled the street again, while shop owners were significantly reassured by the calm to begin cleaning their grocery stories, supermarkets, book stores, restaurants and others.

Traffic police also deployed heavily in the streets as employees began returning to their places of work, while banks opened their doors to serve customers who had not been able to withdraw and deposit money for weeks.

Despite the scenes of normalcy, however, reminders of the massive destruction waged by Israel on Gaza were everywhere.

Around 8,000 building including homes, mosques, schools, and offices were destroyed or partially damaged.

The PLO estimates that 46,000 homes were damaged, with more than 100,000 Gazans rendered completely homeless.

Over 177 schools, 10 hospitals, and seven clinics were also damaged, while 73 mosques were destroyed.

Around 197 mosques and two churches were also partially damaged.

Medical and rescue teams of the Ministry of Health also suffered a considerable number of human casualties. Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said 23 staff members were killed and 83 were injured during the assault.

Journalists were not immune either, as Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling claimed the lives of 17 journalists and injured more than 20 during the fighting.

Technicians of the Gaza electricity company were also targeted during the war, and two were killed a few hours before ceasefire was announced.

Muhammad Thahir, 47 and Tamir Hamad, 27 were killed Tuesday afternoon when an Israeli warplane fired a missile at their vehicle near Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.

The vehicle had signs and flags of the electricity company on both sides and on the roof, but was hit while technicians were trying to fix an electricity line.

Public information officer of the Gaza electricity company Jamal Dardasawi insisted that the vehicle was deliberately targeted, highlighting that it was parked in a crowded area and no coordination was needed for the job they were doing.

He called upon international human rights organizations to investigate the Israeli attack, which he said was just an example of Israeli aggression "against the components of civil life and daily life services in Gaza."
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