Thursday, May 23, 2013
Last Updated: 22 May 19:22 PM IST
22 November 2012
GAZA CITY (Palestinian Territories)/UNHQ/BRUSSELS, 22 NOV: An Egypt-brokered truce took hold in the Gaza Strip today after a week of bitter fighting between militant groups and Israel, with both sides claiming victory but remaining wary.
In Gaza City, there was a semblance of normality in the streets following a week of relentless Israeli airstrikes and a night of celebrations that began as the truce came into effect at 1900 GMT (12:30 IST) yesterday.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr of Egypt, which sponsored the marathon talks which resulted in the ceasefire, announced the cessation of hostilities at a joint news conference in Cairo with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
The UN Security Council urged Israel and Hamas to respect the ceasefire while joining with US President Barack Obama in praising Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi for mediating an end to the bloodshed. European Union leaders, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy also welcomed the ceasefire proclaimed in Gaza, saying it was “now crucial” to make sure it was implemented.
As calm returned to the skies after a week of unstinting airstrikes which began on 14 November when Israel killed a top Hamas commander, jubilant Gazans flooded into the streets to celebrate.
Gunfire and fireworks streaked into the dark night sky, where Israeli drones could still be heard buzzing overhead, as mosques broadcast the chants: “God is greatest” and “The resistance is victorious”.
Some residents waved the green flags of Gaza's ruling Hamas movement and others the Egyptian flag, in tribute to the role Cairo played in the negotiations. "I'm very happy about the end of the war and the truce. I haven't left the house since the beginning of the escalation. I feel free now,” 26-year-old Mai Abu Watfa said.
“We were in prison. I'm overjoyed at the end of the bombing and the war,” Nasim Hamduna said, walking with his child. “I left my house during the violence and here I am today going back to it,” he said gleefully.
In parts of the city, the celebrations were distinctly triumphal, with members of Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, given a hero's welcome.
As the truce came into effect, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said that Israel had “failed in all its goals. “After eight days, God stayed their hand from the people of Gaza, and they were compelled to submit to the conditions of the resistance,” Mr Meshaal said.
“Israel has failed in all its goals,” he told reporters at a Cairo hotel, while warning Israel against violating the agreement. “If you commit, we will commit. If you do not commit, the rifles are in our hands,” he said, vowing: “We will continue to arm ourselves.”
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak also issued a similar warning. The ceasefire “could last nine days or nine weeks or more but if it doesn't hold, we know what to do and of course, we will consider the possibility of resuming our activity if there is any firing or provocations,” Mr Barak told Israeli public radio today. “Such an operation could have created a situation in which we would have had to stay in Gaza for years,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Jewish state had been as good as its word in carrying out Operation Pillar of Defence.
“I said we'd extract high price from terror organisations. The terror organisations thought we'd refrain from strong action. They were wrong,” he said, saying the campaign had taken out militant commanders, destroyed thousands of rockets and had wrecked Hamas command centres.
The army says that during the eight-day operation it hit more than 1,500 targets and destroyed thousands of rockets, while Gaza militants fired more than 1,500 rockets back at Israel, whose vaunted Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted more than 420 of them.
In total, 155 Palestinians died in Israel's bombing campaign, and five Israelis, including a soldier, were killed by rocket fire.