The fallout from 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas
Ceasefire agreed amid international pressure after violence claims more than 200 lives
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is holding after 11 days of violence claimed the lives of more than 200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians.
The Egypt-brokered deal brought an end to the deadliest hostilities between the two protagonists since the 2014 Gaza War and came into force at 2pm local time, with both Israel and Hamas describing it as “mutual and unconditional”.
Days of spiralling violence included Israeli airstrikes that inflicted “widespread damage on Gaza”. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said the attacks have “set back Hamas’ military capabilities for years”, The Telegraph reports. However, the Israeli military “failed to stop over 4,000 rockets being fired towards Israeli cities, terrorising civilians and killing a dozen people”.
As the ceasefire was announced, loudspeakers at mosques across Palestinian-held territory began celebrating “the victory of the resistance achieved over the occupation during the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem”, Sky News reports.
Palestinians left their homes and flooded into the streets of Gaza, some shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as “cars packed the roads, with drivers honking their horns and waving flags from the windows”, the broadcaster continues.
“Some men fired rifles into the air, while others set off firecrackers,” it adds. One man, holding an AK-47 assault rifle, told Reuters: “Our fingers are on the triggers, and we are ready to fight again, but now we will celebrate with our people.”
Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem also celebrated. However, “the mood for many Israelis was sombre”, The Telegraph says. Despite Hamas claiming to have “secured the rights of Palestinians” in Jerusalem, Israel denied giving assurances over Al-Aqsa mosque or evictions in the disputed neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
However, right-wing politicians have leapt on Netanyahu, criticising him for “ending the war too early in the face of mounting pressure from US President Joe Biden”, the paper adds. The ceasefire came just 24 hours after Biden called for a “significant deescalation”.
At least 230 Palestinians have been killed since violence broke out at Al-Aqsa mosque last week, according to Gaza health officials, while 12 people have died in Israel.
Speaking at the White House, Biden expressed his “sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones”, adding: “I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”
The first major test of the ceasefire will come today when thousands of Palestinians will attend weekly prayers at Al-Aqsa, a “flashpoint site revered by both Muslims and Jews where past clashes with Israeli security forces contributed to sparking the latest round of fighting”, The Telegraph says.
But even if the truce holds on Temple Mount, “the absence of genuine reconciliation” between Israel and Hamas suggests that they “will return to the battlefield in due course”, says Shalom Lipner, non-resident Middle East senior fellow with the Atlantic Council.
“Fighting between Israel and Hamas has become almost routine,” The Economist says, noting that “the spark for the latest outbreak came in Jerusalem – but were it not Jerusalem, it would have been some other cause”.
The foes are “stuck in a perpetual crisis”, the paper adds, “trapped by the logic of war, which dictates that they keep going through the same motions”. After the latest round of hostilities, “nothing has been gained; nothing has been resolved. And yet they are likely to do it again.”
Hamas claimed victory following the ceasefire announcement, but “in reality it now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding a shattered territory” that is already facing “overpopulation, insufficient infrastructure and an aid-dependent economy”, The Telegraph reports.
Biden has said that the US will lead the way when it comes to “rapid humanitarian assistance” and “reconstruction efforts” in Gaza, adding that it will do so “in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal”.
US aid will focus on “restoring health and education services”, The New York Times reports, with reconstruction seen as “a point of leverage with Hamas”, which “has lost popularity among residents who criticise its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
“In a sense, you need to put Hamas in a position where they have to choose between their rockets and the well-being of Gaza,” Dennis B. Ross, an American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians for at least four US presidents, told the paper.
The conflict has brought Netanyahu time as Israel’s longest-serving leader battles for his political future. But “given how unpopular Netanyahu already was among US Democrats”, the Likud party leader has further burnt his bridges and has “even less standing to criticise US policy now”, says Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative on the Atlantic Council.
But for now, neither US aid, pressure on Hamas nor Netanyahu’s efforts to survive as Israel’s prime minister are “likely to stop the cycle of violence”, The Economist says. Instead, despite the human cost, “Israel and Hamas will come out of this battle much as they went in”.