- Associated Press - Saturday, November 24, 2012

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza residents said Saturday that Israel has eased some border restrictions as part of its truce with the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, allowing farmers to visit land near its security fence and letting fishermen head further out to sea.

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended eight days of cross-border fighting that claimed 166 Palestinian and six Israeli lives, according to health officials.

As part of the deal, Israel and Hamas are now to negotiate a further easing of the Gaza border blockade, first imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Also Saturday, tens of thousands of Gaza children returned to school for the first time since fighting ended late Wednesday. About half of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are children.

In 245 U.N.-run schools, the day was dedicated to letting children share what they experienced, in hopes of helping them deal with trauma, educators said.

In a sixth-grade class in Gaza City, boys eagerly raised their hands when asked by their science teacher to share their stories in the presence of a reporter. Mohammed Abu Sakr, 11, said that earlier this week, he witnessed an Israeli missile striking a car and engulfing it in flames. The boy said he had trouble sleeping and eating afterwards, and still feels scared.

Thirty-four children and minors under the age of 18 were among those killed in the fighting, said Gaza health officials and local human rights groups. A total of 156 Palestinians were killed during the fighting and 10 died later of their wounds, they said.

The exchanges of fire were the bloodiest between Israel and Hamas in four years. Israel launched the offensive to put an end to escalating Gaza rocket fire on Israeli towns. Israel said it reached its objectives, while Hamas claimed victory because Israel didn’t make good on threats to send ground troops into the territory, as it had done four years earlier.

Israel’s air force carried out some 1,500 strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Gaza militants fired roughly the same number of rockets, including some targeting the Israeli heartland cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.

The truce is to lead to a new border deal for Gaza, with Egypt hosting indirect talks between Israel and Hamas. Israel has shunned Hamas as a terrorist group and refuses to negotiate with it directly.

Israeli demands that Hamas halt weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas seeks free movement for people and goods in and out of Gaza.

After the Hamas takeover in 2007, Israel and then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sealed Gaza to isolate the Islamic militants and make it harder for them to govern.

The restrictions have since been eased because of international pressure on Israel and because of regime change in Egypt. Both Hamas and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, elected earlier this year, are members of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Before the Nov. 14 start of the fighting, Gaza received most of its consumer goods through an Israeli cargo crossing, while Israel banned virtually all exports and travel from Gaza, preventing the area’s battered economy from bouncing back.

Items restricted by Israel, such as construction materials, were brought into Gaza through smuggling tunnels from Egypt, along with weapons for Hamas.

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