Defiant Hamas leader Sinwar appears at Gaza military parade
Hundreds of Hamas fighters brandishing assault rifles paraded in the besieged Gaza Strip and the group’s top leader made his first public appearance on Saturday, in a defiant show of strength after 11 days of deadly Israeli aggression.
Saturday marked the first full day of a ceasefire, and Egyptian mediators held talks to firm up the truce which ended the fourth Israel bombardment of Gaza in just over a decade.
Israel unleashed hundreds of airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip, killing some 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, destroying residential homes, commercial buildings and essential health clinics.
In that time, Hamas and other Gaza fighters retaliated with more than 4,000 rockets toward Israel.
In Gaza City, residents began assessing damage.
One of Gaza City’s busiest commercial areas, Omar al-Mukhtar Street, was covered in debris, smashed cars and twisted metal after a 13-floor building in its centre was flattened in an Israeli airstrike. Merchandise was covered in soot and strewn inside smashed stores and on the pavement. Municipal workers swept broken glass and twisted metal from streets and sidewalks.
“We really didn’t expect this amount of damage,” said Ashour Subeih, who sells baby clothes. “We thought the strike was a bit further from us. But as you can see not an area of the shop is intact.” Having been in business for one year, Subeih estimated his losses were double what he has made so far.
Drone video and photos showed some city blocks reduced to rubble, in between homes and businesses left standing.
On Saturday, hundreds of Hamas fighters wearing military camouflage paraded past the mourning tent for Bassem Issa, a senior commander killed in the fighting. The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, paid his respects in his first public appearance since the bombardment began.
Israel bombed the house of Sinwar, along with that of other senior Hamas figures, as part of its attack on what it said was the group’s military infrastructure. Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, has said Israel delivered a punishing blow to Hamas, and that top Hamas figures remained targets.
Underlying issues remain unresolved, including an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, now in its 14th year, that is choking Gaza’s more than 2 million residents and a refusal by Hamas to disarm.
The violence erupted earlier this month after days of Israeli aggression against Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during the holiest nights of Ramadan. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the forced expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
In response, Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem, prompting Israel to rain down on the besieged enclave with deadly airstrikes for more than ten days.
Meanwhile, the latest flare-up has further sidelined Hamas’ main political rival, the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, which oversees autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas’ popularity seemed to be growing as it positioned itself as a defender of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem.
On Friday, hours after the ceasefire took effect, thousands of Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa compound chanted against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his self-rule government. “Dogs of the Palestinian Authority, out, out,” they shouted, and “The people want the president to leave.”
It was an unprecedented display of anger against Abbas. The conflict also brought to the surface deep frustration among Palestinians, whether in the occupied West Bank, Gaza or within Israel, over the status quo, with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process all but abandoned for years.
Despite his weakened status, Abbas will be the point of contact for any renewed US diplomacy, since Israel and the West, including the United States, consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to meet with Abbas and Israeli leaders when he visits in the coming week. Abbas is expected to raise demands that any Gaza reconstruction plans go through the Palestinian Authority to avoid strengthening Hamas.
On Saturday, Abbas met with Egyptian mediators, discussing the rebuilding of Gaza and internal Palestinian relations, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
An Egyptian diplomat said that two teams of mediators were in Israel and the Palestinian territories to continue talks on firming up a ceasefire deal and securing long-term calm.
The diplomat said discussions include implementing agreed-on measures in Gaza and Jerusalem, including ways to prevent practices that led to the latest fighting. He did not elaborate. He was apparently referring to violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the forced displacement of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes deliberations.
Separately, a 130-truck convoy with humanitarian aid and medical supplies reached the Gaza border from Egypt on Saturday, according to a senior Egyptian official at the border crossing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
Across Gaza, an assessment of the damage to the territory’s already decrepit infrastructure began.
The ministry of public works and housing said that 769 housing and commercial units were rendered uninhabitable, at least 1,042 units in 258 buildings were destroyed and just over 14,500 units suffered minor damage.
The United Nations said about 800,000 people in Gaza do not have regular access to clean piped water, as nearly 50% of the water network was damaged in the fighting.
The Gaza Health Ministry says at least 248 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women, with 1,910 people wounded. Twelve people were killed in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl.
Israel has accused Hamas and the smaller militant group of Islamic Jihad of hiding the actual number of fighters killed in the war. Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday claimed that more than 200 militants were killed, including 25 senior commanders.
Islamic Jihad on Saturday gave a first account of deaths within its ranks, saying that 19 of its commanders and fighters were killed, including the head of the rocket unit in northern Gaza.