, Gaza Strip
(AP) — Thousands of Palestinians
gathered early Friday after the latest Gaza war
's cease-fire went into effect, with many seeing it as a costly but clear victory for the Islamic militant group Hamas
over a far more powerful Israel.
The 11-day war killed over 200 people
, the vast majority of whom were Palestinians, and devastated the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but many Palestinians saw the rocket
barrages that brought life to a halt in much of Israel as a brave response to perceived Israeli abuses in Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict.
The cease-fire will be put to the test on Friday, when tens of thousands of Palestinians gather for weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque
compound in Jerusalem, a flashpoint holy site revered by Jews and Muslims alike. Protests could spark clashes with Israeli police
, resuming the cycle of escalation that led to the war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
warned against further attacks, saying that “if Hamas thinks we will tolerate a drizzle of rockets, they are mistaken.” He vowed to respond to any aggression anywhere in Israel with “a new level of force.”
Thousands of people took to the streets of Gaza as the cease-fire came into effect at 2 a.m., waving Palestinian and Hamas flags, passing out sweets, honking horns, and setting off fireworks, while spontaneous celebrations erupted in east Jerusalem
and across the occupied West Bank
Workers in orange traffic vests swept up rubble from the surrounding roads as an open-air market in Gaza City that had been closed throughout the war reopened.
“Life will return, because this is not the first and will not be the last war,” shop owner Ashraf Abu Mohammad said. “The heart is in pain, there have been disasters, families wiped from the civil registry, and this saddens us, but this is our fate in this land, to be patient.”
In the hard-hit northern town of Beit Hanoun, where residents, many of whom had lost loved ones, surveyed the wreckage of their homes, there was little to celebrate.
“We see such massive destruction here for the first time in history,” Azhar Nsair said, adding, “the cease-fire is for people who did not suffer, who did not lose loved ones, whose homes were not bombed.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his right-wing base that he had called off the war too soon.
The latest round of fighting between the bitter enemies ended inconclusively, with Israel claiming to have inflicted heavy damage on Hamas with hundreds of bruising airstrikes
but failing to halt the rockets once again.
Despite the horrifying toll the war took on countless Palestinian families who lost loved ones, homes, and businesses, Hamas declared victory, and now faces the daunting task of rebuilding in a territory already plagued by high unemployment
and a coronavirus
According to the Gaza Health
Ministry, at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children
and 39 women, and 1,910 were injured; twelve Israelis were killed, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.
The Red Crescent emergency service said it recovered five bodies in the southern town of Khan Younis on Friday, including the body
of a three-year-old child.
The fighting began on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza launched long-range rockets toward Jerusalem, following days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa, where heavy-handed police tactics and the threat of eviction
of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had heightened tensions.
The competing claims to Jerusalem are at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
, and they have previously sparked outbreaks of violence.
After the United States pressed Israel to end the offensive, Egypt brokered a cease-fire. Netanyahu announced late Thursday that Israel had accepted the proposal, emphasizing that “the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign.”
According to the State Department, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
will visit the region in the coming days “to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Throughout the fighting, Hamas and other militant groups launched over 4,000 rockets at Israel, launching them from civilian areas in Israeli cities, with dozens of projectiles flying
as far north as Tel Aviv, the country's bustling commercial capital.
Meanwhile, Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes against what it claimed was Hamas' military infrastructure
, including a massive tunnel network.
The United States, Israel's closest and most important ally, initially supported Israel's right to self-defense against indiscriminate rocket fire, but as the fighting dragged on and the death toll
grew, the Americans increasingly pressed Israel to halt the offensive.
Biden welcomed the cease-fire and stated that the United States was committed to assisting Israel in replenishing its interceptor missile stockpiles as well as collaborating with the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority — not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Members of Netanyahu's hawkish, nationalist base slammed the cease-fire, with Gideon Saar, a former ally who now heads a small party opposed to the prime minister, calling it "embarrassing." Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, called it "a grave surrender to terrorism and the dictates of Hamas."
Palestinian militants claimed Netanyahu agreed to halt further Israeli actions at the Al Aqsa Mosque and to halt planned evictions of Palestinians in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, a potentially damaging development for the Israeli leader.
An Egyptian official said only that tensions in Jerusalem "will be addressed," speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes negotiations and providing no details.
Both Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group appear to have suffered significant losses; the two groups said at least 20 of their fighters were killed, while Israel said at least 160, and likely more, were killed.
During a coronavirus outbreak, 58,000 Palestinians sought refuge in overcrowded United Nations
schools, and thousands returned home as the cease-fire took effect.
Since the fighting began, Gaza's infrastructure, which had already been weakened by a 14-year blockade, has deteriorated rapidly, and airstrikes have damaged schools and health centers.
Medical supplies, water, and electricity fuel are running low in the territory where Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of Israel's occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.
Krauss contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Associated Press writer
Isabel DeBre in Dubai, UAE.