After 11 days of clashes, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire Thursday that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip, brought life in much of Israel to a standstill and left more than 200 people dead.
At 2 a.m. local time, just as the cease-fire took effect, frenzy life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the truce.
Like the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the Islamic militant group’s nonstop rocket barrages. Almost immediately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his hard-line, right-wing base that he stopped the operation too soon.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, also claimed victory. But it now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from poverty, widespread unemployment and a raging coronavirus outbreak.
Netanyahu’s office said his Security Cabinet had unanimously accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal after recommendations from Israel’s military chief and other top security officials. A statement boasted of “significant achievements in the operation, some of which are unprecedented.”
It also included a veiled threat against Hamas. “The political leaders emphasized that the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign,” the statement said.
The fighting erupted on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, built on a site holy to Muslims and Jews, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
The competing claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence in the past.
Hamas and other militant groups fired over 4,000 rockets into Israel throughout the fighting, launching the projectiles from civilian areas at Israeli cities. Dozens of projectiles flew as far north as Tel Aviv, the country’s bustling commercial and cultural capital.
Thousands gathered Friday morning in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis outside the family house of Mohammed Dief, the shadowy Hamas commander who had ordered the rocket attacks. Supporters shouted “victory” and waved green Hamas flags.