Anxiety rules in Israel, Gaza amid cease-fire

Shadia Abu Khusa survived an Israeli airstrike. But the fierce hit blew off the roof and cracked the facade of his home just north of Gaza City. Now he and his family are searching for a place to rent while they repair the damage.

They hope the peace will hold.

"God willing," Abu Khusa said, "it will last 100 years, 200 years, for the sake of our children."

Abu Khusa and other civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli, are trying to regain a semblance of normalcy after Israel and Hamas forces traded fire in a fierce eight-day conflict.

People in the region and across the world hope the normalcy becomes contagious, even though for now, anxiety pervades the battle-weary street.

"With a cease-fire in place, Israel and Hamas should put the well-being of civilians on both sides front and center," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

More than 160 Palestinians died in the exchange of fire, most of whom were civilians. At least six Israelis died, civilians and soldiers. Hundreds of people have been injured.

In Gaza, a man who identified himself as Salah and his family want stability and peace.

When the bombs began falling in Gaza, Salah took his family and fled their home for what he hoped were safer environs.

Now, with the cease-fire taking hold, he packed his car to begin the journey back to Gaza City.

"We hope this is the beginning of a better time," Salah said. "Not a time of war."

Salah's comments followed a day of pronouncements Thursday by the Israeli and Hamas governments, with each side claiming the advantage in the cease-fire.

As Palestinian fishermen returned to the sea and shopkeepers reopened their shuttered businesses, on the other side of the border Israel began withdrawing troops it had deployed as a threat of a ground invasion.

The troops were part of the Pillar of Defense offensive last week, launched to halt the daily rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.

Many in Israel's south near Gaza fear a resumption of missile fire.

Near Sderot, one of the southern Israeli towns long hammered by Palestinian militants, flatbed trucks were loaded with tanks and armored personnel carriers.

It was not a comforting sign for residents who have lived under the constant fear of militant rocket attacks from Gaza.

Schools remain closed in portions of southern Israel as a matter of precaution.

"The result is not very desirable, and it's not a cease-fire," one resident told a reporter on Thursday.

The resident, who was not identified, said "shell fire" could be heard in the distance.

"I don't like this result, and I believe the fight will break out again in one or two months."

Another resident said he was disappointed and angry with the outcome of the Israeli military campaign.

His opinion reflects a new poll in Israel that says 49% of the citizenry wanted the government to continue the military operation. The number of Israeli Jews who favored the cease-fire stood at 31%, the Maariv and Maagar Mohot Polling Institute said.

"We should launch ground attacks in Gaza to solve the problem in one stroke. No matter how long it takes. We are actually ready in both troops and morale, but now all the hopes come to nothing," the resident said.

Now that calm has been restored, said Michel Forst, speaking for a group of independent U.N. human rights experts, "our immediate thoughts go to the Palestinian and Israeli victims, especially women and children."

"We deplored that, as the result of the aerial and naval bombings in Gaza, over 100 civilians were killed and hundreds injured. We condemn the killings of journalists and targeting of media outlets. Furthermore, we deeply regret the destruction or damaging of houses, religious sites, schools and infrastructure," Forst said.

"We condemn the launching of indiscriminate rockets on Israeli neighborhoods which resulted in the killing of three confirmed Israeli civilians and in many being injured. The attack carried out in a bus in Tel Aviv amounts to a gross disregard for human life. Plainly stated, there is no possible justification whatsoever for this attack."

Forst said protection of civilians must now be the priority.

"We utterly condemn all attacks against civilians," he said.