Many Palestinians living close to the Israeli border have returned to piles of rubble where their homes once stood, as a fragile five-day ceasefire extension between Hamas and Israel entered its second day.
Calm held on Friday morning as the two sides in the Gaza conflict pondered Egyptian-mediated efforts to secure a lasting peace.
Om Ahmed, who returned to the town of Khuzaa to inspect the home she had bought last year, found it completely flattened by Israeli strikes.
“I was shocked and was screaming in the street. I still have to pay the mortgage. I am a widow. my husband was killed in the previous war and now my son is in hospital,” she told Al Jazeera.
Her relative Nuseiba Kadeh and her four children, who fled during the conflict to a safer place, also returned after the ceasefire was extended.
“We will stay here for the next five days. I haven’t seen many members of my family since the war started. I want to know what happened to them,” she said.
Uncertainty prevailed among residents living on both sides of the border, especially after Israeli strikes and a flurry of Hamas rockets attacks had been launched shortly after the ceasefire agreement entered into force.
Since then, fighting appears to have been quelled. If observed, the latest truce should herald potentially the longest period of calm in the five-week conflict. An earlier truce collapsed in a firestorm of violence on August 8.
The Israeli offensive on Gaza, which started on July 8, has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,960 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Gaza. More than 100,000 others have been reported injured.
On the Israeli side, three civilians have been killed by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The fighting has also left 64 Israeli soldiers dead, according to the Israeli military.
To achieve a durable solution to the conflict, thorny negotiations have been taking place in Egypt between Israel and Palestinian factions. Delegates from both sides returned from Cairo on Thursday for consultations with their respective bases.
Attempts for durable deal
Palestinian chief negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said the delegations had reached “agreement on many points” concerning the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, a major sticking point in the talks, but needed more time to settle a number of remaining disputes.
Egyptian mediators have proposed that talks on a seaport and airport in Gaza be delayed until a month after a permanent ceasefire takes effect, according to documents seen by the AFP news agency.
Negotiations over the exchange of the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be postponed.
An Israeli-imposed buffer zone inside the Gaza border would be gradually reduced, and eventually policed by forces under the command of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli government has been under fire for accepting the five-day ceasefire deal, with thousands protesting in Tel Aviv against the decision.
The demonstrators gathered for a concert on Thursday in solidarity with residents in southern Israel, who faced incoming rockets fired by fighters in the Gaza Strip during the month-long war.
“I don’t believe in their agreements. We’ve had so many agreements with the Palestinians, with Hamas. Every agreement was broken every time,” Medina Shili, a demonstrator, told Al Jazeera.
Protester Naftali Horowitz said he believed Israel’s siege on Gaza should continue.
“I believe by strangling them there won’t be any civilian casualties. Because they won’t have any choice but to give up and surrender without conditions,” Horowitz told Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera