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Palestinians climb among the rubble of the Hamas Ministry of Interior building, in Gaza City, Nov. 16, 2012. The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for rockets that were fired at Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Mulims and Christians, Friday. (Wissam Nassar/The New York Times)

WISSAM NASSAR, NYT - NYT

Misplaced expectations, tragic result in Gaza Strip

  • Article by: JODI RUDOREN and FARES AKRAM
  • New York Times
  • November 16, 2012 - 9:07 PM

JABALYA, GAZA STRIP - The Abu Wardah family woke up on Friday to word that a cease-fire had been declared during the three-hour visit of the Egyptian prime minister to this embattled territory.

So, after two days huddling indoors to avoid Israeli air assaults, Abed Abu Wardah, the patriarch, went to the market to buy fruits and vegetables. His 22-year-old son, Aiman, took a canister to be refilled with cooking gas. The younger children of their neighborhood in this town north of Gaza City went out to the dirt alley to kick a soccer ball.

But around 9:45 a.m., family members and neighbors said, an explosion struck near the Abu Wardah home, killing Aiman as he returned from his errand, as well as Mahmoud Sadallah, 4, who lived next door.

"What is the truce? What does it mean?" Aiman's brother, Mohammed, 27, asked as he mourned a few hours later.

It is unclear who was responsible for the strike: The damage was nowhere near severe enough to have come from an Israeli F-16, raising the possibility that an errant missile fired by Palestinian militants was responsible for the deaths. What seems clear is that expectations for a pause in the fighting, for at least one family, were tragically misplaced.

Scores of rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern Israel during the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, causing panic and shattering hopes that the Egyptian leader might broker a longer-term cease-fire. The Israeli military said it suspended airstrikes during the visit, though at least two of the familiar booms of F-16 bombardments were heard in Gaza City around 9 a.m.

The failed cease-fire began a day of highs and lows across Gaza, where the largely impoverished population of 1.5 million people has become somewhat inured to violence after years of battle with Israel and where resistance -- whether by firing rockets or throwing rocks -- is an honored part of the culture.

Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the militant Hamas faction, which has governed the strip since 2007, appeared in public for the first time since the hostilities began to triumphantly welcome his Egyptian counterpart, Kandil.

More people roamed the streets of Gaza City than had on Thursday, shopping or just sitting on stoops.

But by nightfall, airstrikes and rocket fire seemed to have picked up again, as news alerts announced that Israel was making final preparations for a ground invasion.

"They must stop," said Saed Shabat, 42, whose home in the border town of Beit Hanoun was damaged in an F-16 strike. He was speaking of both the Israeli assault and Hamas' continuing barrage. "What was the use that we got from the rockets?" asked Shabat. "What is the advantage we got from Hamas?"

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