Israel Declares 'Unconditional' Truce, Palestinians Celebrate

Palestinians wave national flags at al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem, Friday, May 21, 202, as a cease-fire took effect between Hamas and Israel after an 11-day war | AP

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Moments after Israel announced an unconditional truce, halting 11 days of relentless bombing of Gaza Strip, Palestinians across occupied territories poured onto the streets, waving flags and flashing ‘V’ signs for victory.

In Gaza, which had been under heavy Israeli bombardment for 11 days, people came out onto the streets and chanted Allahu Akbar, while in East Jerusalem and West Bank towns, people set off fireworks.

Earlier Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed on Wednesday to press ahead with a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, pushing back against global calls for truce.

Mosque loud-speakers feted "the victory of the resistance achieved over the Occupation (Israel)." Cars driving around East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah at dawn flew Palestinian flags and honked horns, echoing the scenes in Gaza.

An Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas took hold on Friday after the worst violence in years, with U.S. President Joe Biden pledging to salvage the devastated Gaza Strip and the United Nations urging renewed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Israeli aerial bombardment of the densely populated enclave killed 232 Palestinians, damaged thousands of homes and disabled critical infrastructure. Gaza rocket attacks killed 12 people in Israel and wounded hundreds.

In the countdown to the 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Thursday) cease-fire, Palestinian rocket salvoes continued and Israel carried out at least one air strike.

Each side said it stood ready to retaliate for any truce violations by the other. Egypt said it would send two delegations to monitor the ceasefire.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said the resistance groups have obtained guarantees from Egyptian mediators that the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque - the issues that triggered the fighting - would stop.

The violence erupted on May 10, triggered by Palestinians' anger at what they saw as Israeli curbs on their rights in Jerusalem, including during police confrontations with protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque during the Ramadan fasting month.

The fighting meant many Palestinians in Gaza could not mark the Eid al-Fitr festival at Ramadan's conclusion. On Friday, postponed Eid meals were held throughout Gaza.

In Israel, radio stations that had carried around-the-clock news and commentary switched back to pop music and folk songs.

Embarrassing Defeat

In a commentary, the Times of Israel wrote Friday that the Palestinian resistance in Gaza has turned into "a military monster which now aspires to compete with Hezbollah and is managing to embarrass Israel time after time".

Gideon Sa’ar, an Israeli politician and the leader of New Hope party, denounced Netanyahu’s unilateral declaration of ceasefire with Hamas as “embarrassing”.

“With the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to extract from Hamas an ‘unconditional ceasefire’ — embarrassing,” Sa’ar tweeted.
Earlier, he had warned against a ceasefire, saying such a move “would seriously harm Israeli deterrence” against Hamas and other resistance groups.

Hamas cast the fighting as successful resistance of a militarily and economically stronger foe.

"It is true the battle ends today but Netanyahu and the whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance," said Ezzat El-Reshiq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, referring to Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

El-Reshiq told Reuters in Doha the movement's demands included protecting the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and ending the eviction of several Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

In Israel, relief was bittersweet.

"It's good that the conflict will end, but unfortunately I don't feel like we have much time before the next escalation," Eiv Izyaev, a 30-year-old software engineer, said in Tel Aviv.

Amid growing global alarm, Biden had urged Netanyahu to seek de-escalation, while Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations sought to mediate.

Death Count, Reconstruction

Gaza health officials said 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Israel said it had killed at least 160 combatants.

Authorities put the number of deaths in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries in rocket attacks that caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.

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