The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas held fast through its first day and into Saturday morning in the Middle East, while residents across Gaza began to assess for the first time the scale of the damage wrought by the latest round of conflict.
For tens of thousands, the first step was leaving the United Nations-run schools where at least 75,000 had sought shelter from Israeli airstrikes.
Some families emerged on Friday clutching bags and blankets, bound at last for the homes they hoped were still standing.
Others had none left to go back to.
Officials in Gaza said that about 1,000 residential units across the coastal strip had been destroyed and five residential towers brought to the ground, along with an as-yet-uncounted number of businesses.
The bombing also leveled three mosques in Gaza, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and dozens of schools, wrecked its only Covid-19 testing laboratory, and cut off fresh water, electricity and sewer service to much of the enclave.
The Israeli aerial and artillery campaign killed more than 230 people in Gaza, many of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry. More than 4,000 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since May 10, killing 12 people, mostly civilians.
The damage in Gaza is not only a personal disaster for thousands of people and a humanitarian concern for the territory’s two million residents, but also the fertile soil out of which the next military conflict could grow.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that anyone in Israel, or anywhere, thinks that having an impoverished, besieged, angry, young, traumatized, starved population in Gaza is somehow in anyone’s interest, or could in any way produce stability or safety for anyone,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “It just means it’ll happen all over again.”
On Friday, rescue work was still underway hours after the cease-fire took effect at 2 a.m. Workers digging in what appeared to be a destroyed Hamas tunnel found five bodies and pulled about 10 survivors from the rubble.
Gaza is blockaded by its two neighbors, Israel and Egypt, with Israel saying that it must tightly control access to prevent Hamas from gaining military capabilities and Egypt acquiescing for its own complex political and security reasons.
That means Gazans’ ability to import and export from the territory, get access to medical care outside it or fish off its coast is limited. Unemployment tops 50 percent. Almost no one can leave.
After the last war, in 2014, Israel and Hamas were scheduled to discuss easing the blockade in exchange for disarming Hamas, but little progress was made. The damage then was far more extensive.
As violence raged between Israeli and Hamas for 10 days, President Biden spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, privately six times, conversations in which he pressed him to answer a simple question: “How does this end?”
Mr. Biden’s tactic was to avoid public condemnation of Israel’s bombing of Gaza — or even a public call for a cease-fire — in order to build up capital with Mr. Netanyahu and then exert pressure in private when the time came, according to two people familiar with the administration’s internal debates.
In private conversations, Mr. Biden and other American officials reiterated to the Israelis that they had achieved some significant military objectives against Hamas, the militant group that fired thousands of rockets at Israel from Gaza, including targeting its tunnel networks. Mr. Biden pressed Mr. Netanyahu on what his objective was, and what would allow him to say he had achieved it so that a shorter war was possible, rather than a drawn-out military conflict.
In response, according to the people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Netanyahu did not lay out specific objectives that he had to accomplish before agreeing to a cease-fire.
At the same time, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned against exaggerating how much credit Mr. Biden deserved for setting the stage for a truce.
“About 90 percent of the reason for the cease-fire is that both Hamas and the government of Israel determined that prolonging the conflict didn’t serve their interests,” Mr. Haass said. “This was a cease-fire that essentially was ready to happen.”
In his public comments, Mr. Biden refused to join the growing calls from world leaders and many of his fellow Democrats for a cease-fire, or express anything short of support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Dennis B. Ross, who has served as Middle East envoy to three presidents, said a public demand for a cease-fire could have backfired. Had Mr. Biden called for a cease-fire, Mr. Ross said, “Bibi’s political need to stand up to him would have been much greater.”
Mr. Biden’s approach, he added, also sent a message to Hamas. “The more they understood we were not going to be pressuring Israel that way, the more they understood they can’t count on us stopping Israel,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s strategy of quiet diplomacy was intended to build credibility with the Israelis, in order to privately push them toward an end to the violence in a final conversation with Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday. And it took into account the need to tread carefully with Mr. Netanyahu.
Aware of the mistakes made by the United States in trying to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Mr. Biden and his team did not want the United States to become the focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create space for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he will need as a partner in the future in dealing with Iran, to achieve his objectives.
“Israel and the United States are going to have big things to work out, in particular Iran,” Mr. Haas said. “The president had to be careful in how he handled Bibi. Both needed to maintain a working relationship so that if and when the Iran situation moved to the front burner, they would be able to work together.”
Mr. Biden began his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu by making no demands. That helped to pave the way for a gently worded statement that came after their third phone call, in which Mr. Biden said he would support a cease-fire, but stopped short of demanding one.
In follow up conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Biden built up the pressure by demanding privately to Mr. Netanyahu the need for a cease-fire.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Hamas and Israel might have hit pause on the formal hostilities, but unrest flaring in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday made clear that Palestinians still felt they had plenty to fight for.
If anything, the combat between Israel and Hamas had only inflamed the Palestinian quest for greater rights and recognition, demonstrators said, with the truce doing next to nothing to address the broader inspiration for the rocket fire and stone-throwing.
Hours after the rockets and airstrikes stopped, tear gas veiled Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque and Israeli security forces stormed the holy compound, an echo of the police raids two weeks ago that preceded the deadliest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in years.
In a Jerusalem neighborhood overlooking the mosque, the Israeli police tried to contain a crowd of hundreds of Palestinians carrying the flag of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. The police used stun grenades to chase away protesters who had thrown stones and fireworks at them.
And in several places across the West Bank, Israeli soldiers used rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse Palestinians demonstrating after Friday prayers. In all, the Red Crescent said, 97 Palestinians were injured in the West Bank and Jerusalem on Friday.
“We, as Palestinians, will continue struggling to achieve our freedom,” said Emad Mohammed, 47, a trader from Ramallah, in the West Bank, “because the Israeli occupation of our land and people has not ended.”
At the Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinian witnesses said Israeli police officers had used stun grenades and rubber bullets to push demonstrators and worshipers out of the compound after Friday prayers, the Israeli authorities said they were responding to hundreds of young Palestinian men who threw rocks and firebombs at them.
To Palestinians, the clashes, like the fighting with Hamas, illustrated the disproportionate force used by Israel. It also demonstrated the larger asymmetry, they said, in which Israel holds most of the weapons, money and international backing, while blockading Gaza and denying Palestinians basic rights.
Though both sides claimed victory on Friday, the cease-fire was unconditional. It was back to the old normal, where tensions were never far from boiling over.
One of the immediate causes of Palestinian anger remained as explosive as ever: Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where several Palestinian families’ fight to stave off eviction has become a rallying cry.
“Just because there’s a cease-fire, doesn’t mean the death & destruction has ended, doesn’t mean the blockade is lifted, doesn’t mean those who lost their entires families will be rectified,” Mohammed el-Kurd, whose family lives in one of the Sheikh Jarrah homes, tweeted. “We must continue to our campaign to end the brutal siege and colonialism.”
BEERSHEBA, Israel — Three times since Hamas took full control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has launched major offensives against it, and each time, Hamas rebuilt and the strategic balance was largely unchanged.
This time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed, would be different. Armed with extensive war plans, Israel’s military leaders methodically went down a list of targets, trying to inflict maximum damage on Hamas’s military abilities and its commanders.
Yet even now, after a 10-day bombing campaign, the top echelons of the Israeli military acknowledge that their efforts may not prevent another round of fighting, perhaps even in the near future.
Many Israeli commanders expressed satisfaction with what was accomplished in degrading Hamas: scores of militants killed, 340 rocket launchers destroyed, 60 miles of underground tunnels collapsed. As they emerge after the cease-fire, Hamas’s leaders will be sorry that they started this round, said one high-ranking Israeli officer in Tel Aviv, who was involved in the planning and execution of the operation. Hamas, he added, did not know how much Israeli intelligence knew about it and how effectively Israel would thwart its attack plans.
But others were more tentative. Even if Israel had met its military objectives, a senior officer at a command post in Beersheba in southern Israel, where officers oversaw much of the campaign, said it remained uncertain whether the war would prevent future battles.
“I just don’t know,” the officer said, speaking anonymously to give a candid assessment of the outcome. “We need more time to analyze whether it was a success.”
The officer said Hamas still has several hundred rocket launchers. Another senior Israeli officer said the group and its affiliates still have about 8,000 rockets, twice as many as they launched at Israel in this conflict.
Questions have been raised in Israel, the United States and elsewhere about whether the Israeli military’s response to Hamas’s rocket attacks was proportionate and in adherence to international law.
The issues that fueled the fighting remain unresolved, and it has exacted a diplomatic cost for Israel, heightening criticism from Democrats in the United States.
Before deciding to bomb a high-rise building in Gaza City, Israeli military officers knew that it housed offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other news media, and for that reason some of them argued against the strike, three Israeli officials with knowledge of the discussions said on Friday.
Israeli forces warned that the strike last Saturday was coming, giving people time to leave the building, which Israel says contained vital Hamas electronic equipment. The significance of that gear, and the knowledge that no one would be harmed, bolstered the argument in favor of the bombing, according to the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
But in light of the international furor over the airstrike, some high-ranking officials in government and the military now call it a mistake, arguing that Israel needs the media to be open to hearing its version of events, and the bombing made that harder. Video shot by Associated Press workers as they hustled out of the building, trying to rescue a few cameras and computers, was shared widely on news sites and social media around the world.
One official said that while the airstrike was justified militarily, the doubters had been right, and the harm done to Israel’s international standing outweighed any benefit from destroying the Hamas equipment.
Shortly after the bombing, a top military official said that he had no regrets and that if Israel had not taken action, Hamas would have realized that it could shield its resources from attack by placing them near media facilities.
A senior Israeli military official said Hamas maintained a military intelligence facility in the building, and used it as a base for equipment used to try to jam Israeli communications and satellite navigation systems. Hamas has denied having any operations in the building.
Israeli officials said they had conveyed to U.S. officials intelligence that they said justified the strike but have not made that information public.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressed concern about the bombing and said he had not yet seen the intelligence.
For the duration of the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza, entry into the coastal enclave from Israel and Egypt was closed. As a cease-fire took hold on Friday, the roads were reopened, and desperately needed humanitarian aid began to flow into the region. The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, sent this dispatch from the road.
Signs of the conflict still lined the approach to northern Gaza. Israeli tanks were stationed close to a crossing point. Debris was strewn along a small nearby road, possibly the result of several mortar attacks by Palestinian militants earlier in the week.
The tanks later moved off, leaving plumes of dust in their wake. A crowd of journalists waiting at the crossing point were allowed to cross shortly after midday. Israel had barred their transit for the duration of the war because of frequent rocket and mortar fire and airstrikes in the area.
To enter Gaza, we crossed through Israeli passport control, which is contained within a large terminal. Then we passed several narrow turnstiles and walked through the tall gray wall dividing Israel from Gaza — some of the first visitors to the enclave since the start of the fighting.
The scene immediately after the checkpoint, in the fields of northern Gaza, was as it was before the war — sandy farmland, overlooked by Israeli guard towers that punctuate the wall at Gaza’s perimeter.
The first signs of chaos came at the first Palestinian checkpoint on the other side, about half a mile inside Gaza. Gone were the shopkeepers and most of the officials who usually work there. This time there was just a skeleton security staff, who rifled through our bags in a perfunctory way on a table, scarcely bothering to look inside them. Unlike before the war, no one checked to asked for our Covid-19 vaccination status.
The first marks of devastation came on the road south to Gaza City. Beside the road were several bomb craters.
The streets became more dystopian as we entered the center of the city. Rubble was lightly strewn across many streets there, causing the cars to slowly zigzag their way through the city.
One airstrike had ripped off the roof of an office block. A second had shattered the glass facade of another. But the worst damage was on al-Wahda Street, the busy shopping area where 42 residents died over the weekend.
There were so many piles of rubble that they had narrowed the street by half, creating a traffic jam.
A pair of birds hopped their way across the broken stone, and a pair of children stood smiling on a mound of debris, their index and middle fingers extended in a sign of victory.
ASHKELON, Israel — As Israelis emerged from their basements and bomb shelters on Friday, their relief at the cease-fire mixed with frustration that, as in previous rounds of battling with Hamas, nothing had been resolved.
Many people voiced disappointment with yet another hastily arranged truce that they saw as fragile, temporary and even premature. Some said that the military should have carried on pounding Hamas in Gaza for another week or two.
“The mission wasn’t completed,” said Michal Kutzuker, 46, a mother of four who was sitting out eating ice-cream at Captain Crepe in Ashkelon Marina, an open-air leisure complex in this seaside city, with her extended family. “Nothing has changed.”
Speaking like a frustrated general, as many do here, she added: “Israel looks beaten, not determined. A psychological victory is as important as a physical one.”
After four major conflicts in the past 12 years and many shorter cross-border conflagrations in between, the threat of rocket fire has become a familiar, if terrifying, part of life here.
But this time was different, with far more of the unguided rockets fired at Israel’s civilian population, sending people sprinting for shelter. Dozens slipped through Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome antimissile system and crashed into Ahskelon, with two women killed.
Hamas militants and other groups launched more than 4,300 rockets at Israel in 10 days, far more than in any similar time period in past conflicts, and Israeli warplanes bombarded 1,000 targets in Gaza. At least 248 people in Gaza were killed, including 66 children, according to health officials there, and thousands were displaced. In Israel, 12 people were killed, including two children.
Ashkelon’s marina, whose ice cream parlors and fish restaurants are usually packed with people at the start of the weekend, was almost empty on Friday, in a measure of wariness about the truce.
A poll published on Israel’s Channel 12 on Thursday indicated that 72 percent of Israelis thought the air campaign in Gaza should continue, whereas 24 percent said Israel should agree to a cease-fire.
“We’ve been experiencing an operation after an operation after an operation,” said Tamar Hermann, a public opinion expert and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent research group in Jerusalem.
“Israelis are looking for a final conclusion to these operations. People are saying enough is enough is enough,” she said. “Sometimes, one is willing to suffer in order to bring a very unpleasant situation to a close.”
Cease-fire agreements are precarious things, diplomats and Middle East experts cautioned, even as the deal between Hamas and Israel held in place on Friday.
After announcing the agreement on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office warned that “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”
Similarly, a Hamas spokesman, Taher al-Nono, said on Thursday, “the Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the occupation abides by it.”
No immediate violations were reported after the cease-fire began officially at 2 a.m. local time Friday. Past deals between Israel and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, have often fallen apart. But the agreements can offer periods of calm to allow time for negotiating a longer-term deal. They also give civilians a chance to regroup and allow displaced people to return to their homes.
Previous cease-fires have usually gone in stages, beginning with an agreement that Israel and Hamas will stop attacking each other, a dynamic that Israelis call “quiet for quiet.”
That means Hamas halting rocket attacks into Israel and Israel ceasing bombardment of Gaza.
Pauses in the fighting are usually followed by other steps: Israel easing its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian relief, fuel and other goods to enter; Hamas reining in protesters and allied militant groups that attack Israel; and both sides exchanging prisoners or those killed in action.
But bigger challenges — such as a more thorough rehabilitation of Gaza and improving relations between Israel, Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank — have remained elusive over the past several rounds of violence.
There is rebuilding after every cycle of violence, usually with aid from the United Nations, the European Union and Qatar, but without a permanent peace, reconstruction is always risky.
Despite the devastating toll on Palestinian civilians and the extensive damage to homes, schools and medical facilities in Gaza, the current conflict has been more limited than the wars Israel and Hamas waged in 2008 and 2014, when Israeli troops entered Gaza.
In July 2014, six days after the Israeli Army began bombarding Gaza, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that Israel agreed to. But Hamas said that it addressed none of its demands, and the cycle of rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes resumed after less than 24 hours.
Egypt announced another cease-fire two days later, but Israel then sent in tanks and ground troops and began firing into Gaza from the sea, saying that its aim was to destroy tunnels that Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Over the next several weeks, Israeli forces periodically halted their attacks to allow humanitarian aid, but the fighting continued.
In all, nine pauses in fighting came and went before the 2014 conflict ended, after 51 days, with more than 2,000 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis killed.
The United States plans to be at the forefront of an international effort to help rebuild Gaza, an undertaking that is likely to cost billions of dollars and include restoring health and education services and other reconstruction, a senior Biden administration official said on Thursday.
The official said that rebuilding Gaza — likely to be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of diplomatic considerations in the region now that a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants was underway.
The administration is also considering how to foster relations and coordination among Palestinian political factions in Gaza and the West Bank. The rivalry between the Palestinian Authority, which exerts partial control in parts of the occupied territories, and Hamas, which governs Gaza and which the United States, Israel and others consider a terrorist group, has been a major obstacle in international efforts to aid Palestinians.
Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — not only to help residents, but also because officials and experts said it could help create leverage with Hamas, which has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
But Dennis B. Ross, a veteran American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, said that international donors would be wary of financing a costly reconstruction effort without assurances that any investments would not go to waste — as they all but certainly would if Hamas reignited hostilities.
Similar warnings were posed in 2014 after an eight-week war between Israel and Hamas damaged more than 170,000 homes in Gaza, displacing over a quarter of its population. The international community created a monitoring system to oversee the rebuilding efforts and block any attempts by Hamas to import supplies that could be used as weapons.
Mr. Ross said that any future monitoring system would need to be an effective, round-the-clock endeavor that would halt reconstruction if Hamas were found to be storing, building or preparing to launch rockets.
“The issue is massive reconstruction for no rockets,” Mr. Ross said. “There has to be enough oversight of this process to know that it’s working the way it’s intended. And the minute you see irregularities, everything stops.”