Jubilant celebrations erupted on the streets of Gaza as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect late Wednesday after eight days of fierce fighting that killed more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis.
After eight days of fierce fighting and a 48-hour frantic diplomatic shuttle, Israel and Hamas agreed to a much-awaited ceasefire Wednesday, with the two sides promising to halt all attacks.
The deal, which was brokered by Egypt, was announced by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr and visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a joint press conference in Cairo just hours before the ceasefire went into force at 9pm local time Wednesday.More than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense following the November 14 assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military chief in Gaza.
Under the terms of the ceasefire deal, Israel agreed to stop all aggression against the Gaza Strip from land, sea and air, including cross-border incursions and targeted killings. Hamas officials agreed to cease all hostilities against Israel from Gaza, including rocket attacks.
The agreement also provided a 24-hour cooling off period, after which, Israel is committed to opening the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip and easing the restrictions on goods and people moving in and out of the densely-populated enclave.
Wednesday’s ceasefire agreement capped a 48-hour period of intense negotiations, which saw Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrive in the region to help broker a deal between the warring sides. A truce announcement scheduled for Tuesday was postponed as the two sides sought assurances on their key respective demands.
Celebratory gunfire on jubilant Gaza streets
When the deal was finally announced, residents of Gaza and Israel held their breaths for a few hours as the two sides continued to fire on each other as the 9pm deadline approached.Shortly after the deadline passed, the Gaza Strip erupted into jubilant celebrations with mosques broadcasting cries of “Allahu akbar” (God is great) and residents opening celebratory gunfire.
Reporting from Gaza, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said there was a palpable sense of victory in the air. “Gazans believe Hamas and the other Palestinian factions scored some major points in this latest confrontation with Israel,” he explained.
“The other reason for all these celebrations is simply because these people have been holed up for the past eight days and they’re simply happy to be able to come out,” said Fenwick.
Since the November 14 start of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel launched more than 1,500 airstrikes on targets across the Strip as well as naval bombardments from the Mediterranean coast.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants launched more than 1,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel over the past eight-day period. They included Fajr-5 medium-range rockets, with a maximum range of 75 kilometers, some of which landed in the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – a first in a conflict that has spanned more than six decades.
“In terms of the Israeli reactions to the ceasefire, obviously people here are happy that the rockets are supposed to stop coming over the border,” said FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore, reporting from Tel Aviv. “The Israelis are on the watch during the 24-hour period before the border crossings are supposed to open. They don’t want to see a single rocket cross the border.”
Reacting to the ceasefire agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed to the deal after speaking to US President Barack Obama.
But Netanyahu also appeared to warn of further strikes – or even a ground offensive – if the guarantees Israel sought were not met. “I know there are citizens who expected a wider military operation and it could be that it will be needed. But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to take this opportunity to reach a lasting ceasefire,” he said.
Precarious ‘sticking-plaster agreement’
The Israel-Hamas ceasefire went into effect hours after a bomb exploded on a bus near Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv early Wednesday, wounding 27 people and sparking fears that the attack could scuttle the chances of a ceasefire deal.“In the end, the attack did not actually have much impact on the negotiations, painful as they were – and reminiscent of the attacks during the intifada,” said Moore, referring to the 2000-2005 period of escalated Israeli-Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada.
While Hamas did not take responsibility for the Tel Aviv bus attack, the Islamist group praised the bombing.
At a press conference in Cairo shortly after the ceasefire took affect late Wednesday, Hamas’ exiled chief Khaled Meshaal maintained that Israel had failed in its military “adventure”. But he pledged to uphold the terms of the truce agreement – if Israel complied with their guarantees.
While the latest ceasefire may have brought a temporary reprieve to this round of fighting, Middle East analysts such as Steven Ekovich of the American University of Paris warned that the truce – even if it holds – will be precarious at best.
“This is a long story and history has led us to be skeptical of ceasefire agreements – they’re sticking-plaster agreements,” said Ekovich in an interview with FRANCE 24.