Collapse of hope in Gaza as ceasefire unravels

A Palestinain woman reacts upon seeing her house in the east of Khan Younis. Credit: Reuters

By Rageh Omaar, International Affairs Editor

The 72 hour humanitarian ceasfire for Gaza's beleagured civilian population barely lasted three.

It was a day which began with a sense of hope for Palestinian civilians, hundreds of whom have lost their lives in the bombardment.

Streets that had been deserted for weeks were suddenly busy again. Shops selling basic supplies began to re-open and there was a level of ordinary traffic not witnessed in many districts for weeks.

Whole swathes of deserted districts, near the Israeli border, cleared by the Israeli military in a self-declared "buffer zone" slowly began to see the tentative return of those who had fled.

I travelled down to Khan Younis and the shattered Khoza'ah district. The eastern part of the neighbourhood had almost been completely obliterated, looking like a post-apolcalyptic scene.

The area had been cut off for nearly three weeks with no one allowed to enter it or leave it. By early morning hundreds of people began to return hoping to pick their possesions from the rubble.

But before they could do that, many found themselves having to retrieve the bodies of the dead. I saw 7 bodies being collected in a half hour period. The stench of decomposing bodies filled the whole area.

But by mid morning, a little over three hours after the start of the ceasefire, I could already hear the constant start of heavy explosions.

News began to circulate that an Israeli soldier had allegedly been captured by Hamas, something no senior Hamas official has yet to confirm. Instead the organisation blames Israel for breaking the ceasefire.

Read: Israel names soldier suspected to have been captured

Israel says Lt Hadar Goldin was captured during an operation against one of Hamas' secret tunnels into Israel, during which two other Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed.

This threatens not only to intensify this conflict in Gaza, but to also turn it into a long and protracted one.

This was already a conflict in which both sides were poles apart in agreeing to the basis of any lasting end to hostilities, if an Israeli soldier is now being held by Hamas, this will see them with an extra issue, one with far more psychological and strategic impact, thrown into the search for an end to hositilities.

Gilad Shalit, the last Israeli soldier held in Gaza was captive for 5 years.

The people who are paying the price for the breakdown in the ceasefire are Gaza's civilians, up to eighty of whom are said to have died in today's bombardment of Rafah.

Pictures: Civilians hit by fresh attacks in Rafah as ceasefire unravels