Life in Gaza began returning to normal on Thursday with a public holiday to mark a ceasefire that ended a violent eight-day confrontation with the Israeli military.
After days and nights cooped up at home, their buildings rocked by an unrelenting Israeli bombing campaign and the sound of outgoing Palestinian rocket fire, residents were eager to reclaim their hometowns and their lives.
For the first time in more than a week, the noise of traffic jams and honking horns filled the air in Gaza City, replacing the terrifying booms of air strikes and rocket fire.
Traffic police returned to the streets to try to direct the chaos, to no great effect, as people stopped by newspaper vendors to pick up a daily or ate breakfast at one of the falafel stands dotting the city.
Shop owners began to reopen, some for the first time since the violence began on November 14 with Israel’s targeted killing of a senior Hamas military commander. Some swept the pavement in front of their shops, as locals formed short queues in front of cash machines, withdrawing money now that places were open for business again.
Late on Wednesday, the ruling Hamas government announced that Thursday would be a public holiday. “The Palestinian government announces that Thursday 22nd November is a national holiday of victory and an official holiday,” it said in a statement.
It “invites all citizens to celebrate this occasion and visit the families of the martyrs and the wounded and those affected by the violence and to affirm national solidarity”.
Government schools were expected to reopen on Saturday, ending a week without studies for Gaza’s children who have struggled to cope with the trauma of war and the boredom of being stuck indoors.
Several Hamas ministers were expected to give addresses later in the day, although there was no word as to whether Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya would be among them.