With the daily bombardment by the Israeli military aimed at Hamas militants embedded in civilian neighborhoods at an end, at least for the moment as a fragile cease-fire held, residents across Gaza were able to assess for the first time on Friday the scale of the damage wrought by the latest round of conflict.
For tens of thousands, the first step was leaving the United Nations-run schools where at least 75,000 had sought shelter from Israeli airstrikes.
Some families emerged clutching bags and blankets, bound at last for the homes they hoped were still standing.
Others had none left to go back to.
Officials in Gaza said that about 1,000 residential units across the coastal strip had been destroyed and five residential towers brought to the ground, along with an as-yet-uncounted number of businesses.
The bombing also leveled three mosques in Gaza, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and dozens of schools, wrecked its only Covid-19 testing laboratory, and cut off fresh water, electricity and sewer service to much of the enclave.
The Israeli aerial and artillery campaign killed more than 230 people in Gaza, many of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry. More than 4,000 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since May 10, killing 12 people, mostly civilians.
The damage in Gaza is not only a personal disaster for thousands of people and a humanitarian concern for the territory’s two million residents, but also the fertile soil out of which the next military conflict could grow.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that anyone in Israel, or anywhere, thinks that having an impoverished, besieged, angry, young, traumatized, starved population in Gaza is somehow in anyone’s interest, or could in any way produce stability or safety for anyone,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “It just means it’ll happen all over again.”
On Friday, rescue work was underway. Workers digging in what appeared to be a destroyed Hamas tunnel found five bodies and pulled about 10 survivors from the rubble.
Gaza is blockaded by its two neighbors, Israel and Egypt, with Israel saying that it must tightly control access to prevent Hamas from gaining military capabilities and Egypt acquiescing for its own complex political and security reasons.
That means Gazans’ ability to import and export from the territory, get access to medical care outside it or fish off its coast is limited. Unemployment tops 50 percent. Almost no one can leave.
After the last war, in 2014, Israel and Hamas were scheduled to discuss easing the blockade in exchange for disarming Hamas, but little progress was made. The damage then was far more extensive.
The sirens across southern Israel were silent on Friday, and the thunder of bombs bursting in Gaza City was replaced by sounds of celebratory gunfire as a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas went into force, bringing an end to more than 10 days of fighting that claimed more than 200 lives.
The truce, mediated by Egypt, began at 2 a.m. in Israel as people on either side of the divide watched nervously to see whether it would hold.
As morning dawned with no reported violations of the truce, both sides were beginning to take stock of the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in seven years.
A small skirmish was reported outside the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon between Palestinians and the Israeli police, but they appeared limited in scope.
However, tensions remained high, and past cease-fires between Israel and Hamas have proved fragile, so both sides were watching developments nervously.
Hamas and Israel have been engaged in some form of conflict since the Palestinian group was founded in the 1980s. This particular round of military action began as Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in response to several police raids on the Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from their homes in the city.
Even with the pause in fighting, the underlying causes of the conflict remain: the dispute over land rights in Jerusalem and the West Bank, religious tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem and the absence of a peace process to resolve the conflict. Gaza remains under a punishing blockade by Israel and Egypt.
But the immediate concern for world leaders was the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the growing death toll — which included dozens of Palestinian children.
President Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel six times in recent days — turning increasingly blunt as the crisis stretched on. He warned the Israeli leader that he could not withstand mounting international criticism of the Gaza strikes for long.
The president’s advisers said he believed he could quietly push Mr. Netanyahu, whom he has known for 40 years, to bring an end to the violence. And in the hours before the cease-fire announcement, Mr. Biden also held a call with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt to discuss the possibility of brokering a deal.
After the agreement was announced, Mr. Biden offered praised what he described as a “mutual, unconditional” cease-fire.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks delivered at the White House, “and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”
Diplomats from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations worked intensively to broker the deal between Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly.
The final details were hammered out late Thursday, and Mr. Netanyahu’s office security cabinet voted unanimously to accept the Egyptian proposal. Around the same time, Hamas officials confirmed that they, too, had accepted.
Each side cautioned that its compliance could depend on the other’s actions.
ASHKELON, Israel — Residents of Ashkelon, a coastal city barely a dozen miles north of Gaza, emerged gingerly from their houses on Friday — with the skies as calm as the nearby sea.
For more than a week, the coastal city, which is within the range of rockets fired by Hamas, had been under siege.
And even after four major conflicts between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza in the past 12 years — with the threat of rocket fire a familiar part of life — it is not something people would ever typically get used to.
But this time, residents said, it was different. More furious and intense, with barrages of up to 40 rockets at a time.
Those that slipped through Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome antimissile system crashed into the city with greater impact than in the past.
Two women died here in a direct strike on their building at the start of the fighting: Nella Gurevitz, 52, and Soumya Santosh, 32, a caregiver.
Even after the cease-fire took effect on Friday, Marina, an open-air leisure complex with a lagoon of anchored small yachts, ice cream parlors and fish restaurants — usually packed with people at the start of the weekend — was almost empty.
“People don’t trust it 100 percent,” Liora Yaakobov, 25, a postal worker, said of the cease-fire.
Out walking with her partner for the first time since the violence started on May 10, Ms. Yaakobov also expressed a disappointment and concern felt by many here, that the truce had come too early, and that the latest bout of fighting would resolve nothing.
“I’m happy for the calm,” she said, “but I’m waiting for the next round.”
In one of the older neighborhoods — filled with dilapidated housing projects from the 1950s — small, reinforced concrete shelters dotted the sidewalk. But for many residents they were simply too far away to run and take cover in, with sirens providing only 10 or 15 seconds warning of incoming rockets.
Ludmilla Gavrielov, 72, a Moldova native with mobility problems, said she had no chance of reaching a shelter in time, and had instead huddled by a wall in her apartment.
Off South Africa Boulevard, in a more well-heeled section of the city, where the roads are lined with attractive single-family homes, one had suffered a direct hit on Thursday afternoon, about 12 hours before the start of the cease-fire.
Large Israeli flags had been hung on the front fence in a sign of defiance. The back corner of the villa had been blown away and was in danger of collapse. Pictures still hung on the inner walls, unscathed.
Next door, Tzvi and Yehudit Berkovitch, grandparents in their 70s, were hurrying to cook for the Sabbath. They had been in their family shelter in the yard when the rocket struck, and had felt the blast.
“It’s annoying,” Ms. Berkovitch said. She was critical of the Israeli military and government. “In three or four years, there’ll be another round,” she said. “I think they didn’t finish the job.”
A small skirmish at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon underscored the simmering tensions that gripped Israel only hours after an intense diplomatic effort brought about a fragile cease-fire.
The clash broke out shortly after the conclusion of midday prayers, as Israeli police officers entered the mosque compound and fired tear gas and sound grenades.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 21 injured, two of whom were taken to the hospital. Nine people were arrested, according to Israeli public radio.
A large raid by Israeli police officers more than a month ago at the mosque was one of the key catalysts that ignited the worst violence to rock the region in seven years.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that rocks had been thrown at officers standing outside the Chain Gate, one of the entrances to the compound. He said the forces had entered the site to pursue the people who threw the rocks. He said he was not aware of any arrests as of 2:20 p.m.
Thousands of worshipers had come to the mosque compound for midday prayer, filling much of the site’s indoor and outdoor spaces.
Standing under the blazing sun, worshipers intermittently chanted, “God is great,” as imams led them in prayers, including a special one for people killed in the latest round of violence.
Hundreds gathered on steps near the Dome of the Rock, the place from which Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. They chanted praise for the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
Israeli police officers wearing helmets had been posted behind barricades near entrances to the compound, keeping a distance from worshipers while watching them exit the area.
For the duration of the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza, entry into the coastal enclave from Israel and Egypt was closed. As a cease-fire took hold on Friday, the roads were reopened, and desperately needed humanitarian aid began to flow into the region. The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, sent this dispatch from the road.
Signs of the conflict still lined the approach to northern Gaza. Israeli tanks were stationed close to a crossing point. Debris was strewn along a small nearby road, possibly the result of several mortar attacks by Palestinian militants earlier in the week.
The tanks later moved off, leaving plumes of dust in their wake. A crowd of journalists waiting at the crossing point were allowed to cross shortly after midday. Israel had barred their transit for the duration of the war because of frequent rocket and mortar fire and airstrikes in the area.
To enter Gaza, we crossed through Israeli passport control, which is contained within a large terminal. Then we passed several narrow turnstiles and walked through the tall gray wall dividing Israel from Gaza — some of the first visitors to the enclave since the start of the fighting.
The scene immediately after the checkpoint, in the fields of northern Gaza, was as it was before the war — sandy farmland, overlooked by Israeli guard towers that punctuate the wall at Gaza’s perimeter.
The first signs of chaos came at the first Palestinian checkpoint on the other side, about half a mile inside Gaza. Gone were the shopkeepers and most of the officials who usually work there. This time there was just a skeleton security staff, who rifled through our bags in a perfunctory way on a table, scarcely bothering to look inside them. Unlike before the war, no one checked to asked for our Covid-19 vaccination status.
The first marks of devastation came on the road south to Gaza City. Beside the road were several bomb craters.
The streets became more dystopian as we entered the center of the city. Rubble was lightly strewn across many streets there, causing the cars to slowly zigzag their way through the city.
One airstrike had ripped off the roof of an office block. A second had shattered the glass facade of another. But the worst damage was on al-Wahda Street, the busy shopping area where 42 residents died over the weekend.
There were so many piles of rubble that they had narrowed the street by half, creating a traffic jam.
A pair of birds hopped their way across the broken stone, and a pair of children stood smiling on a mound of debris, their index and middle fingers extended in a sign of victory.
As Israel and Hamas observed a tenuous cease-fire that began early Friday, Israeli commentators took stock of the 11-day conflict, with many questioning what the extended bombardment of Gaza had accomplished.
Several analysts and political rivals criticized Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over an operation that they said had drawn international condemnation but failed to deliver a decisive blow to Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. Despite the heaviest Israeli bombardment since 2014, they noted, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel until the hours before the truce went into effect.
“With the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to extract from Hamas an ‘unconditional cease-fire.’ Embarrassing,” tweeted Gideon Saar, a conservative politician and former ally of Mr. Netanhayu’s who broke with the prime minister in 2019.
Every round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings questions and recriminations in Israel, which as the superior military power is often criticized for its use of disproportionate force and for the harm to civilians. Israeli airstrikes since May 10 killed more than 230 people in Gaza, according the Gaza health ministry, wounded more than 1,600 and prompted protests in cities around the world.
Sharon Idan, a correspondent for Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster, tweeted that Israel had been pressured by international leaders into ending the Gaza operation, while Hamas “stands firm” and “has not really been defeated.” The United States is Israel’s strongest ally, but in recent days President Biden, facing pressure from within his own party, raised the pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to bring the attacks to a halt.
“Israel will go into a cease-fire because the world is tired of fighting,” Mr. Idan wrote. “Not because the time has come and not because things will change.”
Israeli military officials said that the operation had destroyed dozens of miles of underground tunnels and severely curtailed Hamas’s ability to launch attacks.
“The damage to Hamas will certainly influence the organization’s decisions to launch rockets in the future,” Itai Brun, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told Israeli Army radio.
Mr. Netanyahu’s main rival, Yair Lapid, who is trying to form a new government after the prime minister failed to do so last month, praised the army and the performance of Iron Dome, Israel’s U.S.-funded missile-defense system, which intercepted many of the rockets that Hamas fired before they could do damage inside Israel.
But he criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s government for not securing the return of Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas, and for its inability to protect civilians in border towns such as Ashkelon, where Hamas projectiles killed two residents last week.
“The army succeeded,” Mr. Lapid wrote on Facebook. “The government failed.”
Gabby Sobelman, Myra Noveck and
GAZA CITY — As the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect at 2 a.m. local time on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza City to celebrate what Hamas supporters were calling a defeat of the Israeli forces.
With the skies free from the threat of Israeli bombardment for the first time since May 10, loudspeakers at mosques blared “God is great,” a chant more often heard during holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Voices on speakers called on people to come out “to celebrate the victory,” while some Hamas supporters passed out sweets and others toted weapons on their shoulders, occasionally firing into the air.
“I feel we won,” said Ibrahim Hamdan, 26, adding that barrages of rocket attacks by Hamas had forced Israel to accept the cease-fire.
“It’s the first time that the resistance has hurt the enemy,” he said.
Ibrahim al Najjar, a 26-year-old who joined the rally with two friends, said Hamas had achieved a milestone when its rockets reached Tel Aviv, the bustling Israeli coastal city that for the first time last week found itself in the militants’ firing line, with Israeli beachgoers forced to scurry to safety.
“It’s the most luxurious victory, because at least we struck Tel Aviv,” Mr. al Najjar said. “I wasn’t as happy on my wedding day as I was when they hit Tel Aviv.”
Some Hamas supporters chanted, “We are Mohammed Deif’s men,” referring to the Hamas military commander whom Israeli officials said they had been trying to kill, so far without apparent success.
But the celebratory mood belied the devastation in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 Palestinians, destroyed buildings, left huge swaths of the territory without electricity or water, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Some in the crowd questioned what the conflict had accomplished.
Ramadan Smama came out not to celebrate, he said, but to take in the destruction. The 53-year-old said that he admired the growing capabilities of Hamas’s arsenal of rockets, but that it was too soon to tell whether the fighting would improve life for the two million people of Gaza.
“I don’t see achievements,” he said, “but I hope there will be achievements.”
Cease-fire agreements are precarious things, diplomats and Middle East experts cautioned, even as the deal between Hamas and Israel held in place on Friday.
After announcing the agreement on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office warned that “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”
Similarly, a Hamas spokesman, Taher al-Nono, said on Thursday, “the Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the occupation abides by it.”
No immediate violations were reported after the cease-fire began officially at 2 a.m. local time Friday. Past deals between Israel and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, have often fallen apart. But the agreements can offer periods of calm to allow time for negotiating a longer-term deal. They also give civilians a chance to regroup and allow displaced people to return to their homes.
Previous cease-fires have usually gone in stages, beginning with an agreement that Israel and Hamas will stop attacking each other, a dynamic that Israelis call “quiet for quiet.”
That means Hamas halting rocket attacks into Israel and Israel ceasing bombardment of Gaza.
Pauses in the fighting are usually followed by other steps: Israel easing its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian relief, fuel and other goods to enter; Hamas reining in protesters and allied militant groups that attack Israel; and both sides exchanging prisoners or those killed in action.
But bigger challenges — such as a more thorough rehabilitation of Gaza and improving relations between Israel, Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank — have remained elusive over the past several rounds of violence.
There is rebuilding after every cycle of violence, usually with aid from the United Nations, the European Union and Qatar, but without a permanent peace, reconstruction is always risky.
Despite the devastating toll on Palestinian civilians and the extensive damage to homes, schools and medical facilities in Gaza, the current conflict has been more limited than the wars Israel and Hamas waged in 2008 and 2014, when Israeli troops entered Gaza.
In July 2014, six days after the Israeli Army began bombarding Gaza, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that Israel agreed to. But Hamas said that it addressed none of its demands, and the cycle of rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes resumed after less than 24 hours.
Egypt announced another cease-fire two days later, but Israel then sent in tanks and ground troops and began firing into Gaza from the sea, saying that its aim was to destroy tunnels that Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Over the next several weeks, Israeli forces periodically halted their attacks to allow humanitarian aid, but the fighting continued.
In all, nine pauses in fighting came and went before the 2014 conflict ended, after 51 days, with more than 2,000 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis killed.
The United States plans to be at the forefront of an international effort to help rebuild Gaza, an undertaking that is likely to cost billions of dollars and include restoring health and education services and other reconstruction, a senior Biden administration official said on Thursday.
The official said that rebuilding Gaza — likely to be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of diplomatic considerations in the region now that a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants was underway.
The administration is also considering how to foster relations and coordination among Palestinian political factions in Gaza and the West Bank. The rivalry between the Palestinian Authority, which exerts partial control in parts of the occupied territories, and Hamas, which governs Gaza and which the United States, Israel and others consider a terrorist group, has been a major obstacle in international efforts to aid Palestinians.
Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — not only to help residents, but also because officials and experts said it could help create leverage with Hamas, which has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
But Dennis B. Ross, a veteran American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, said that international donors would be wary of financing a costly reconstruction effort without assurances that any investments would not go to waste — as they all but certainly would if Hamas reignited hostilities.
Similar warnings were posed in 2014 after an eight-week war between Israel and Hamas damaged more than 170,000 homes in Gaza, displacing over a quarter of its population. The international community created a monitoring system to oversee the rebuilding efforts and block any attempts by Hamas to import supplies that could be used as weapons.
Mr. Ross said that any future monitoring system would need to be an effective, round-the-clock endeavor that would halt reconstruction if Hamas were found to be storing, building or preparing to launch rockets.
“The issue is massive reconstruction for no rockets,” Mr. Ross said. “There has to be enough oversight of this process to know that it’s working the way it’s intended. And the minute you see irregularities, everything stops.”