© Reuters. Streaks of light are seen as Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts missiles fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, May 20, 2021, REUTERS / Amir Cohen
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams (NYSE 🙂
GAZA / JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A truce between Israel and Hamas was signed on Friday after the worst violence in years. US President Joe Biden promised to save the destroyed Gaza Strip and the United Nations called for renewed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
An Israeli air strike on the densely populated enclave killed 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, injured more than 1,900 and damaged critical infrastructure and thousands of homes. In Israel, 12 people were killed and hundreds treated for injuries in rocket attacks that caused panic and rushed people into shelters.
Palestinians, fearful of Israeli fire for 11 days, flocked to the streets of Gaza and embraced in celebration in front of bombed buildings on rubble-covered streets.
Mosque loudspeakers celebrated “the victory of the resistance over the occupation (Israel)”. Cars driving around Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem at dawn waved Palestinian flags and honked their horns, reflecting scenes in Gaza.
In the 2am countdown to the armistice (2300 GMT Thursday), Palestinian rocket volleys continued and Israel carried out at least one air strike.
Each side said it was ready to take revenge for the other’s ceasefire violations. Egypt said it would send two delegations to oversee the ceasefire it brokered.
The violence broke out on May 10, sparked by Palestinian anger over what they saw as Israeli restrictions on their rights in Jerusalem, including during police confrontations with protesters in the Al-Aqsa mosque during the month of Ramadan.
The fighting meant that many Palestinians in Gaza could not mark the Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of Ramadan. Eid meals were postponed across Gaza on Friday.
In Israel, radio stations that had broadcast news and commentary around the clock switched back to pop music and folk songs.
DEATH FEE, RECONSTRUCTION
Israel said it killed at least 160 combatants, but Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules Gaza, launched the fighting as a successful opposition to a militarily and economically stronger enemy.
“It is true that the fight ends today, but Netanyahu and the world should know that our hands are on the trigger and that we will continue to build the capabilities of this resistance,” said Ezzat El-Reshiq, a senior member of the political bureau Hamas referring to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
El-Reshiq told Reuters in Doha the movement’s demand included protecting the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and ending the eviction of several Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem.
Saleh Diab, who was among those threatened with eviction, was relieved but cautious. “This is a morning of freedom, a morning of victory,” he said, adding that he now hoped to stay at his home but feared what Israel would do next.
In Israel, the relief was also marked by doubt.
“It’s good that the conflict is ending, but unfortunately I don’t have the feeling that we have much time before the next escalation,” said Eiv Izyaev, a 30-year-old software engineer, in Tel Aviv.
Amid growing global concern, Biden had urged Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, while Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations sought mediation.
In a televised address on Thursday, Biden expressed condolences to the bereaved Israelis and Palestinians and said Washington would work with the United Nations “and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance” to Gaza and its reconstruction.
After days of Israeli air strikes that destroyed residential towers and damaged power lines, Gaza Strip officials said around 16,800 homes were damaged and residents received three or four hours of electricity, compared with 12 hours before the fighting.
The Israeli military says its air strikes destroyed tunnels used by Hamas, houses of militant commanders, rocket launch sites, and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities.
Palestinian officials put the cost of rebuilding Gaza at tens of millions of dollars, while economists said the fighting could slow Israel’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden said aid to Gaza is being coordinated with the Palestinian Authority, headed by Hamas’ rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, “in a way that does not allow Hamas to use its military arsenal just refill “.
Hamas is seen in the West and by Israel as a terrorist organization that it does not recognize.
Hamas called the rocket operation the “Sword of Jerusalem” and presented itself as the guardian of the Palestinians in the city, whose eastern sector they are looking for a future state.
Abbas, 85, whose West-backed Palestinian Authority has little influence over Gaza, received an initial call to Biden during the crisis – four months after Biden took office – but remained a marginal number.
Abbas-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said: “We applaud the success of Egypt’s international efforts to stop Israeli aggression against our people in Gaza.”
In what might be a worrying sign for Abbas in his heartland in the West Bank, some Palestinians waved green Hamas flags in Ramallah, the seat of his government.
Hamas had previously demanded that any end to the fighting in Gaza be accompanied by Israeli defeat in Jerusalem. An Israeli official told Reuters that there was no such state of the ceasefire.
The State Department said Foreign Minister Antony Blinken was planning to travel to the Middle East to discuss recovery efforts with Israeli, Palestinian and regional leaders.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Israeli and Palestinian leaders have “a responsibility beyond restoring calm to address the root causes of the conflict”.