Israel and Hamas claim victory as fragile ceasefire continues

Israel and Hamas claim victory as fragile ceasefire continues

Israel and Hamas claimed victory on Friday after their forces ended 11 days of fighting, but a clash between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem revealed the fragility of the truce.

Egypt, which mediated before dawn to end the worst hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians in many years, debated measures to prevent a resumption of militant rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel and Israeli bombardments against the Palestinian enclave.

The violence in Gaza was sparked on May 10, in part by Israeli police incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque compound and clashes with Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Thousands of people gathered there again for prayers this Friday, with many staying to demonstrate their support for Gaza.

Israeli police fired stun grenades at the protesters, who threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the officers, and Palestinian doctors said that some 20 Palestinians were injured.

The clashes subsided within an hour and the Israeli police withdrew at the gates of the compound.

In Gaza, five more bodies were pulled from the rubble of the densely populated Palestinian enclave, bringing the death toll to 243, including 66 children, and more than 1,900 injured.

The Israeli army said that one Israeli soldier had been killed, as well as 12 civilians; Hundreds of people have been treated for injuries after rocket salvoes that caused panic and pushed people to shelters even in distant Tel Aviv.

Palestinians who had gone into hiding out of fear of Israeli bombardment took to the streets of Gaza, hugging each other to celebrate in front of the bombed buildings.

Mosque loudspeakers celebrated “the victory of the resistance” and cars drove by, waving Palestinian flags and honking their horns.

Egypt said it would send two delegations to oversee the truce, which began at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT), as warring parties said they were prepared to retaliate for any violations.

“WE RETURNED AND FOUND NOTHING”

Civilians on both sides of the front line were skeptical.

“What is the truce? What does it mean?” Said Samira Abdallah Naseer, a mother of 11 children, sitting near the remains of a building near Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip.

“We went back to our houses and we couldn’t find any place to sit, no water, no electricity, no mattresses, nothing,” he said.

In a cafeteria in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, in northern Gaza, student Dan Kiri, 25, said Israel must continue to attack Hamas until it collapses. “It is only a matter of time until the next operation in Gaza,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation had damaged the ability of Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, to launch missiles at Israel.

Netanyahu said that the Israeli army had attacked and destroyed Hamas’s extensive network of tunnels in Gaza, its rocket factories, weapons laboratories and storage facilities, and that it had killed more than 200 militants, including 25 senior officials.

“Hamas can no longer hide. It is a great achievement for Israel,” he said in a televised speech.

“We have eliminated an important part of the command echelon of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And whoever has not died knows today that our long arm can reach him anywhere, on the ground or underground.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called the resistance fighting successful in the face of a stronger military and economically enemy, and said he would regain lost military capabilities.

“We will rebuild what the occupation (Israel) destroyed and restore our capabilities, and we will not abandon our obligations and duties to the families of the martyrs, the wounded and those whose homes were destroyed,” he said.

Ben Oakley
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