Concerns grow over Gaza's humanitarian crisis

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding this weekend. The agreement follows 11 days of fighting between Israel Defense Forces and Hamas that resulted in the deaths of more than 230 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis. CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams is in Gaza to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis and the impact the cease-fire is having on the region.

Video Transcript

- The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding this weekend, despite tensions in the region. There have been breaks in the calm. Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinian protesters outside the famed Al-aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem Friday.

Israeli officials say they were responding to demonstrators, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. This confrontation happened just about 12 hours after the ceasefire went into effect. The agreement stopped 11 days of fighting between Israeli defense forces and Hamas. A dozen Israelis died in the conflict. The Palestinian death toll was nearly 20 times that number, more than 230, including dozens of children. CBS News Foreign Correspondent Holly Williams has a look at what's been left behind in Gaza.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: In Gaza, with this cease fire holding for now, Palestinians are taking stock of what they lost in this conflict. It's opened new wounds in a place already worn down by poverty. Maha [? Nassir ?] told us she's mourning family friends who once lived where there's now only rubble.

MAHA NASSIR: All my friends, family, my friends. Dad, mom, sisters, brothers, all.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, labeled a terrorist organization by the US, celebrated the ceasefire as a victory. They fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, killing 13. Though Israel's Iron Dome air defense system shut down most of the projectiles, Israel's retaliation was to pummel the overcrowded Gaza Strip, where they have no defense.

The Israeli government claims it did unprecedented damage to Hamas, killing more than 200 militants, while doing its best to avoid civilians. But officials here say nearly 70 of those killed were children. Five-month-old baby Omar lost his four brothers and mother in a strike.


My heart is breaking, his father, Mohammed told us. What guilt does this baby have? Mohammed denies that he's a militant and could have been the target for Israel, though we can't independently confirm that.

- And Holly Williams joins us now from Gaza for more. Holly, as you mentioned in your piece, this is just the second day that reporters have actually been allowed access to Gaza. What more can you tell us about what you're seeing on the ground there?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Well, when you cross over into the Gaza Strip as we did yesterday, you really get a sense of just how unequal this conflict is, both militarily and economically. Of course, there's pain and destruction and death on both sides when they have a conflict like this, but it's really the Gaza Strip that has borne the brunt of it. Now more than 4,000 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip where we are now, towards Israeli towns and cities during this 11 day conflict, and they killed 13 people. But most of those rockets were shot down by Israel's state of the art air defense system, which is called Iron Dome.

Here in Gaza, they don't have any defense, and around 250 people were killed, according to Palestinian officials, including 66 children. You know, as we've been driving around the last couple of days, you really get a sense of the power of the blistering Israeli air strikes. You know, entire buildings just reduced to rubble, multi-storey buildings knocked off their foundations.

And earlier today, we visited the main hospital here in the Gaza Strip and we met a little girl called Sara-- four years old. She was inside an apartment building, her relatives told her, that was hit by an air strike. The ceiling collapsed and she damaged her spine. The doctors say that she will she will never walk again. So that gives you a sense of the human cost of this conflict here in the Gaza Strip.

- All those children. Concerns are also growing, Holly, obviously, over the humanitarian crisis that's emerging in Gaza. What more can you tell us about the situation, and what are you seeing in terms of aid?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Well, look, the Gaza Strip is impoverished at the best of times, and let me give you a little bit of a sense of that. This is a really tiny patch of land. It's about 25 miles long, into which around 2 million Palestinian people are crammed. And since 2007, they have lived under a blockade, which makes it extremely difficult for them to leave and very often, very difficult for goods and aid to come in.

The United Nations says that the cost of that blockade over the last 10 years has been more than $16 billion, which is an enormous amount of money in this part of the world. The UN says that half the people here live in poverty and that it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. In fact, many people here struggle for just basic services, like reliable electricity and safe water. And of course, conflict makes all of those things worse. So just in the last week, we've had the UN launching an appeal for food and first aid for the Gaza Strip.

- And Holly, both Israel and Hamas have claimed victory in this truce. What does each side claim to have gained in this conflict?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Well, Israel says that it did unprecedented damage to Hamas. Hamas is the group that controls the Gaza Strip. It's classed by the US as a terrorist organization, and Israel says that it managed to kill more than 200 Hamas militants. But I should also tell you that there were critics of Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who say it's no coincidence that at this point he is fighting for his political survival. He's on trial for corruption, and they blame him for igniting this conflict.

On the other side, many people in this region really feel that Hamas has benefited, is a winner, if you will, from this conflict, because they've been able to position themselves as leaders and defenders of all Palestinian people, not just the people here in the Gaza Strip. However, if you look around here in Gaza, and you see the losses that ordinary Palestinian people have suffered, their lives, losing their houses, this doesn't look like a victory.

- Well, I also want to ask you about these clashes that we've seen. Specifically between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police that broke out in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday. How do these conflicts, these smaller clashes threaten the fragility of this cease fire?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, look, I think that however you look at it, this is a precarious cease fire because it doesn't do anything to address the underlying issues, and they've been the same underlying issues for decades now, which is that we have two peoples who both believe this very small patch of land is their country, is their homeland, and they're willing to fight for it and they're not going anywhere. And I remember the spark for this latest conflict was threatened evictions and clashes in Jerusalem. You know, and without addressing those underlying issues, there's a very high chance that the same thing could happen all over again.

- All right, Holly. Thank you for joining us.