Gazans celebrate Israel-Hamas ceasefire that ends 11-day conflict

Thousands of Gazans took to the streets on Friday to celebrate a ceasefire that ended an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.

But in a sign of the underlying tensions that triggered the violence, Israeli forces fired tear gas on Palestinian youths around the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, where thousands had rallied. Police said they responded to “rioters” who were throwing rocks, leading to the arrest of 16 suspects, a spokesman said.

In Gaza, the mood was defiant and celebratory as Israel’s bombardment of the densely populated strip that is home to 2m people came to an end. Families ventured out on to the streets for the first time in days, some waving Palestinian flags, as cars honked horns.

But the scale of the devastation cast a cloud. “I didn’t look around to ask who won this war — when I looked around, all I saw was death and destruction,” said Ahmed Abed Rabo, a 29-year-old unemployed Gazan. “I don’t care if Israel wins or Hamas wins — neither will change the situation here, where all my children see is death.”

The conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted on May 10 after the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip fired rockets deep into the Jewish state following weeks of tensions around Jerusalem. Israel responded by launching its heaviest assault against Hamas in seven years.

At least 243 Palestinians, including 104 women and children, have been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials. Twelve Israelis, including two children, were killed before an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire took hold at 2am on Friday.

Both sides claimed success, while issuing warnings to each other. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday warned against any further attacks, saying “if Hamas thinks we will tolerate a trickle of rockets, it is wrong”. He vowed to respond with “a new level of force” against any aggression anywhere in Israel.

An official with the militant group warned that it had its “hand on the trigger”, calling for Israel to end violence in Jerusalem and to address the widespread damage in Gaza, Reuters reported.

The truce came after the US stepped up pressure on Israel to end its bombardment of Gaza. A ceasefire suits both Israel and Hamas, said Michael Stephens, an associate fellow at Rusi, a think-tank.

“A ceasefire is not surprising given that neither side gains from continued fighting,” he said. “The Israelis have not had a good week in terms of PR and Hamas isn’t really achieving anything at this point, with no further protests inside Israel and the benefit of their initial escalation has worn off and infrastructure-wise they are suffering.”

Israeli warplanes and artillery had bombarded Gaza for more than a week, targeting Hamas militants, but causing huge destruction.

The Israel Defense Forces said it launched operations against thousands of Hamas military targets, adding that it had sought to minimise civilian casualties. “The military operation was very decisive — it took Hamas years back,” an Israeli officer said. “We took out their research and development, production capacity and military experts — the process for them to rebuild is very difficult.”

Hamas, which fought three wars with Israel between 2009 and 2014, fired more than 4,000 rockets targeting cities and towns across Israel.

The conflict also sparked communal unrest between minority Arab Israelis and Jews, a rarity that unsettled political leaders and wider society in Israel, and widespread unrest in the West Bank.

As part of the ceasefire negotiations, a regional official said Hamas had wanted an end to the expulsion of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, a move that helped trigger the violence; an end to curbs around al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site; and to ease the delivery of aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza. The mosque lies in a compound — known to Muslims as the Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount — that is sacred to both religions.

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