Updated at 11:30 am (GMT+3): Palestinians celebrated in Gaza on Tuesday evening as a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian resistance took hold after 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade.
“Since the truce came into force, there has been no IDF [sic] activity in Gaza, and no rocket fire on Israel,” an Israeli military spokeswoman said 12 hours after the beginning of ceasefire.
In Gaza, where celebrations erupted once the truce took hold at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, the festivities continued late into the night as its 1.8 million residents reveled in the end of seven weeks of bloody violence.
The conflict, which began on July 8 when Israel began its brutal military operation on Gaza, has claimed the lives of at least 2,143 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side.
UN figures show at least 70 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, while 64 of the Israelis killed were soldiers.
Thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged, and the United Nations has named a panel to investigate possible war crimes committed by both sides.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said at least 540,000 people had been displaced in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians said the ceasefire was a “permanent” truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as “unconditional and unlimited in time.”
Thousands flooded onto the streets in celebration in Gaza, some firing joyfully into the air, AFP correspondents said.
Chanting and clapping, they surged through the battered streets, bellowing songs of victory as a man swathed in a huge green Hamas flag threw handfuls of sweets into the air.
Mosques used their loudspeakers to broadcast celebratory chants of “God is great” as the war-torn enclave hailed the apparent end to seven weeks of violence that has seen a quarter of the territory’s population flee their homes.
“Thank God the war is ended. I can’t believe I’m still alive with my kids!” 32-year-old Maha Khaled told AFP.
“It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end.”
Cars jammed the streets, their horns honking incessantly, as beaming women and children flashed victory signs and crowds of young men bounced up and down on rooftops, waving flags.
As night fell, there was no letup in the celebrations as the rhythmic thud of drums beat a celebratory pulse and a performer breathed fire to entertain the ecstatic crowd.
“Today Gaza showed the world that it is resisting and that it is stronger than Israel,” said Tamer al-Madqa, 23.
Palestinians also took to the streets to celebrate in annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
A “victory for the resistance”
News of the agreement first emerged from the West Bank city of Ramallah where a Palestinian official told AFP that an elusive “permanent ceasefire” deal would involve an end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.
Ending the blockade had been a key Palestinian demand in truce talks, with Hamas hailing the agreement as a “victory for the resistance.”
“The Egyptian initiative (includes) an opening of the crossings for goods and humanitarian and food aid to enter Gaza, as well as medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks,” chief Palestinian truce negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad told AFP.
Restrictions on fishing would end “immediately” with boats allowed to fish up to 10 kilometers (six miles) offshore with the limit later extended to 20 kilometers, he said.
There was no immediate word on when the crossings would be opened under terms outlined in the deal, or whether the fishing zone extension was in place.
At a later, unspecified date, the two sides would return to Cairo to discuss “the exchange of (Palestinian) prisoners and of the bodies of those (Israeli soldiers) killed” during the conflict, Ahmad said.
Egypt’s foreign ministry confirmed there would be a “continuation of indirect negotiations between the two sides on other matters within one month of the ceasefire taking effect.”
A senior Israeli official said the talks would resume in Cairo “within a month,” saying its delegation would be “raising our concerns about demilitarization and preventing Hamas from rearming.”
But in his first public appearance since the start of the war, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, who like other Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders had gone to ground to avoid being assassinated by Israel, pledged its military wing would continue “arming itself and developing its resistance capacity.”
In Israel, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from the Gaza Strip fell silent, but media commentators voiced deep disappointment over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.
“After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organization killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine (and) placed the country in a state of economic distress…we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire,” analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper.
“We could have expected the prime minister to go to the President’s Residence and inform him of his decision to resign his post.”
Netanyahu, who has faced constant sniping from far-right members of his coalition government demanding military action to topple Hamas, made no immediate comment on the Egyptian-mediated truce deal that took effect on Tuesday evening.
Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv daily, said there was no victory for Israel in a conflict that resulted in “a collapsed tourism industry (and) an economy approaching recession.”
But defending Netanyahu, Alex Fishman, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military affairs correspondent, wrote: “It can be said to the credit of the prime minister and the defense minister that they discerned the pointlessness of this confrontation from the first moment, and seized every opportunity for a ceasefire.”
The international community reacts
Washington gave its full backing to the Egyptian-mediated deal, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on both sides “to fully and completely comply with its terms.”
“We strongly support today’s ceasefire agreement,” he said early Wednesday, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope that the ceasefire in Gaza would set the stage for talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Britain also welcomed the truce, hailing Egyptian efforts to end the violence.
“The ceasefire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict,” said Tobias Ellwood, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East.
And Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet of diplomatic peacemakers, also welcomed the end of the bloodshed.
“The Quartet will now concentrate on a long-term plan for Gaza and for its reconstruction, including the effective and efficient re-opening and re-connection (of the enclave) to the outside world under the authority of the Palestinian Authority government,” he said in a statement.
“Such a plan will enable a proper and decent life for the people of Gaza, as well as protect the security of the people of Israel.”
Iran said Wednesday that the Palestinian resistance fighters had emerged the victors and brought their Israeli foe “to its knees” during the bloody 50-day Gaza conflict.
“The heroic Palestinian people have forged a new era with the victory of the resistance which has brought the Zionist regime to its knees,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“This victory prepares the way for the final liberation of all the occupied lands especially Jerusalem,” it said, congratulating the Palestinian people and the resistance groups in Gaza that Iran supports.
Qatar hailed the ceasefire accord and offered to help rebuild the Palestinian enclave battered by seven weeks of intensive Israeli bombardment.
The accord for a long-term ceasefire which came into effect on Tuesday was thanks “firstly to the resistance and the sacrifices” of the Palestinians, the gas-rich Gulf emirate said in a statement.
It said Qatar, which is home to Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ exiled chief, was “ready to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible.”
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)