The skies over Gaza remained calm yesterday as a long-term ceasefire took hold, ending the deadliest violence in a decade with Israel and Hamas both claiming victory in the 50-day war.
Millions in and around the war-torn enclave enjoyed a welcome night of peace during which there were no strikes on Gaza, nor Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, the Israeli army said.
“Since the truce came into force, there has been no IDF [Israel Defense Forces] activity in Gaza, and no rocket fire on Israel,” an Israeli military spokeswoman said 12 hours after the guns on both sides fell silent.
The agreement, which went into force at 4pm GMT on Tuesday, was hailed by Washington, as well as by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said he hoped it would set the stage for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Both Israel and Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, hailed the ceasefire as a victory.
However, commentators took a more realistic perspective.
“A draw” was the headline in the Maariv newspaper.
Experts said the two sides agreed to halt their fire out of exhaustion after seven weeks of fighting that has claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side.
“After 50 days of fighting, the two sides were exhausted, so that’s why they reached a ceasefire,” Middle East expert Eyal Zisser said.
Politically, Hamas had “not achieved anything,” but to really weaken the movement, Israel would have to resume peace talks with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, Zisser said.
The Palestinians said it was a “permanent” truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as “unconditional and unlimited in time.”
Under the deal, Israel is to ease restrictions on the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials into Gaza and expand the area open to Palestinian fishermen to 6 nautical miles (11km). However, talks on crunch issues, such as Hamas’ demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls to disarm militant groups, are to be delayed until the negotiators return to Cairo within the coming month.
In Gaza, where celebrations erupted once the truce took hold, the festivities continued late into the night as its 1.8 million residents revelled in the end of seven weeks of bloody violence.
“We slept last night without any raids and we couldn’t hear warplanes,” resident Mutaz Shalah said as he headed to work for the first time since the war began on July 8.
“We were able to sleep,” said another resident, Alaa al-Jaro. “We had the best sleep ever after the Israeli aggression ended.”
Although there was little sign of celebration in Israel, as people absorbed the deaths of two civilians killed by a mortar shell just before the truce, officials were quick to portray the agreement as a resounding success.
“For years, Hamas has prepared a number of very big operations for a war against Israel, involving rockets, involving tunnels and terror attacks and all of these met a crushing response from the IDF,” Liran Dan, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israeli army radio. “Hamas started this [war] with a clear declaration that it wouldn’t stop without an end to the blockade, a port and an airport... It set out with a very clear objective and didn’t get anything that it wanted.”
However, Hamas said it had caused Israel heavy losses and emerged victorious.
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