The world heaved a sigh of relief on Friday as Israel and Hamas announced a ceasefire after 11 days of intense battling that saw more than 250 Palestinians killed, over 1,000 injured and 12 Israelis dead.
Celebrations were heard on Gaza streets in the minutes after the truce began as cars honked their horns and some guns were fired in the air, AFP journalists said, while in the occupied West Bank, joyful crowds also took to the streets.
With no alerts sounding in Israel to warn of incoming Hamas rockets, the ceasefire appeared to be holding in the early hours of Friday.
The truce brokered by Egypt, that also included Gaza’s second-most powerful group, Islamic Jihad, was agreed following mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed which erupted on May 10.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the deal.
“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working toward it,” Biden said at the White House, hailing Egypt’s role in brokering the agreement.
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendation of all of the security officials … to accept the Egyptian initiative for a mutual ceasefire without pre-conditions”.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also confirmed the ceasefire in statements.
“This is the euphoria of victory,” said Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas figure, in front of a crowd of thousands of Palestinians who had gathered in the streets to celebrate.
The Israeli statement claimed its aerial campaign had made “unprecedented” achievements in Gaza, a territory it has blockaded since 2007, the year of Hamas’s takeover.
“The political leadership emphasises that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation,” it added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday he would be “prepared at any time to go to Israel, to the Middle East, if that would serve the purpose of moving beyond the violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.
Fighting erupted earlier this month after weeks of tensions in Jerusalem, notably over planned evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, and clashes at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The Israeli army claimed Hamas and other groups in Gaza have since fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, but the overwhelming majority of those headed for populated areas were intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.
The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including two children and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police say.
Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, and have wounded another 1,900, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Vast areas have been reduced to rubble and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas authorities.
Diplomatic sources told AFP in Cairo that “two Egyptian delegations will be dispatched to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories to monitor its (the ceasefire) implementation and procedures to maintain stable conditions permanently.”
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES
“I stress that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict. “Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division.”
US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
“We remain committed to work with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people in Gaza and in the Gaza reconstruction efforts.”
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”
“My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I am committed to working for it.”
EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH AL-SISI
“With utter happiness I have received a phone call from President Biden in which we have exchanged visions around reaching a formula that would calm the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, our vision was in tune about managing the conflict between all parties with diplomacy.”
UN MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY TOR WENNESLAND
“I welcome the ceasefire between #Gaza & #Israel. I extend my deepest condolences to the victims of the violence & their loved ones. I commend #Egypt & #Qatar for the efforts carried out, in close contact w/ the @UN, to help restore calm. The work of building #Palestine can start.”
US AMBASSADOR TO THE UN LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD
“Now, we must turn our focus toward making more tangible progress toward a durable peace. And we must work together to address the urgent humanitarian needs on the ground, which are especially – in fact significantly – immense in Gaza.”
BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY DOMINIC RAAB
“Welcome news of a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. All sides must work to make the ceasefire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life. UK continues to support efforts to bring about peace.”