Israelis, Palestinians Celebrate Truce After 11-Day Conflict
Jubilant Palestinians poured into the battle-scarred streets of the Gaza Strip, and the blare of air raid sirens fell silent over Israel after the Israeli military and the Hamas group halted their 11-day conflict on Friday.
Loudspeakers across the isolated Palestinian enclave blared “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great,” and fighters shot into the air in celebration as a 2 a.m. truce brokered by Egypt went into effect, putting an end to devastating Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire that had pounded the territory relentlessly, killing at least 243 people, many of them civilians. Footage broadcast by Arab networks including Al-Jazeera showed large gatherings of people chanting, honking horns and launching fireworks.
Israelis went about their business Friday without needing to run for cover from Gaza rocket fire that sowed chaos and killed 12 people, all but one a civilian.
Threatening to split the fragile calm was the “Day of Rage” protest called for by Hamas in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the holy city at the core of competing Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty claims.
The war was the fourth since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 and the most damaging. Efforts to end the hostilities intensified after the U.S. raised pressure on Israel Wednesday. Both Israel and Hamas claimed to have prevailed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas absorbed “blows it couldn’t dream of” and warned that Israel wouldn’t tolerate “a trickle of rockets.”
“This is the euphoria of victory,” said Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas figure, to thousands gathered in the streets of Gaza City.
Celebrations also erupted in the West Bank, the base of Hamas’ rival, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. Its prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh said his government would submit Israeli “crimes committed against children and women” to the International Criminal Court.
The tribunal has already launched an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians, put into motion after their 2014 war. Israel has said it won’t cooperate and has challenged the court’s authority to open the probe.
The truce alone does nothing to address the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making future cycles of violence likely.
Peacemaking between Israel and the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority broke down seven years ago, and Hamas and some other groups say armed resistance is required to win back land and rights. Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control there, confining more than 2 million people to a sliver of land.
While the Biden administration has underlined traditional U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has indicated that it doesn’t plan to invest heavily in trying to resolve the conflict. And the wholehearted embrace of Israel by former President Donald Trump has left Palestinians wary of U.S. mediation.
President Joe Biden praised the accord, while reiterating his support for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also vowed to help replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system Israel deployed to stop Hamas rocket attacks and said the U.S. would remain engaged in diplomatic outreach to prevent more conflict.
”I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said.
The latest hostilities erupted after Hamas launched rockets toward Jerusalem following weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the city. As fighting escalated, it spilled over into deadly violence inside Israel between Arab and Jewish citizens, the fiercest communal fighting in decades.
Israel appeared intent on inflicting maximum damage in Gaza, launching waves of strikes against cross-border tunnels designed for infiltration and a network of subterranean corridors used for combat transport, weapons storage and hideouts. High-ranking Gaza military commanders and intelligence figures were a major target, and Israel says it assassinated more than two dozen.
“Hamas was taken by surprise” by the ferocity and duration of the Israeli response, according to Ron Dermer, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Speaking at a Hudson Institute event on Friday, Dermer said “they may have thought there would be a back and forth for a day or two but that Israel wasn’t going to launch a major operation.”
The devastation was greater than any wrought in the three previous wars Israel waged in the territory. While it refrained from a ground invasion, hundreds of aerial bombardments compounded by artillery and tank fire leveled or damaged hundreds of buildings and destroyed roads. Power, water and sewage systems were all disrupted, in part, Israel says, by Gaza rocket fire that fell short.
Some of the attacks took place at refugee camps, hospitals and schools, where Israel accuses Hamas of using human shields to try to protect its military operations. Palestinians say many of the victims were civilians, including dozens of children.
Israel, too, suffered intense rocket fire that menaced millions of citizens. Some of the more than 4,000 rockets launched by Hamas eluded the Iron Dome, which mitigated the lethality and damage of the fire.
While ordinary Palestinians and Israelis have suffered, leaders on both sides emerge strengthened.
The fighting and communal turmoil it unleashed within Israel upended opposition efforts to form a government that would unseat Netanyahu after a March election -- the fourth in two years -- again produced no clear winner. One prospective partner pulled out of coalition talks entirely and an Arab faction suspended participation.
The prime minister, on trial for alleged influence-peddling, has called suggestions that he prolonged the conflict for his own political gain “preposterous.” Hardliners accused him of stopping too soon.
While the Israeli military dealt a physical blow to Hamas, its armed confrontation with Israel scored points domestically, where it is seen as more effective against Israel than the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
After 16 years in power, Abbas has brought the Palestinians no closer to statehood, and in May, he called off legislative elections in which polls showed Hamas stood to gain, if not win.
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