CAIRO A cease-fire agreed to under intense Egyptian and U.S. pressure between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to halt eight days of bloody conflict seemed to be holding Thursday, averting a full-scale Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip without resolving the underlying disputes.
With Israeli forces still massed on the Gaza border, a tentative calm in the fighting descended after the agreement was announced Wednesday night. Some of the tens of thousands of Israeli reservists called up during the conflagration appeared to be making preparations on Thursday to redeploy away from the Gaza border where the Israeli military had mounted a buildup of armor and troops.
The success of the truce will be an early test of how Egypt’s new Islamist government might influence the most intractable conflict in the Middle East.
In southern Israel, the target of more than 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza over the past week, wary residents began to return to routine. But schools within a 25-mile radius of the Palestinian enclave remained closed and thousands of soldiers, mobilized for a possible ground invasion, remained along the Gaza border. The military said a decision regarding the troop deployment would be made after an assessment of the situation later Thursday.
In Gaza, traffic returned to streets that had been deserted, stores and markets opened and workers began the huge task of cleaning up the debris left by days of aerial and naval bombardment. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza in support of the cease-fire as the Hamas leadership emerged from the fighting claiming victory.
Israel Radio said a dozen rockets were fired from Gaza in the first few hours of the cease-fire, but Israeli forces did not respond. In the rival Twitter feeds that offered a cyberspace counterpoint to the exchanges of airstrikes and rockets, the Israel Defense Forces said they had achieved their objectives while the armed Al Qassam Brigades in Gaza said Israeli forces had “raised the white flag.”
After more than a week of nights punctuated by the crash of bombardment and the sound of missiles, reporters in Gaza said the night had been quiet.
At the same time, Israeli security forces said Thursday that they detained 55 Palestinian militants in the West Bank after earlier confrontations. The army said the detentions were designed to “continue to maintain order” and to “prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli communities.”