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Hamas claims victory as Palestinians celebrate after first night of calm

Hamas claimed victory as thousands of people took to the streets of Gaza early Friday to celebrate a ceasefire between terror groups in the coastal enclave and Israel.

By dawn Friday, no rockets have been fired at Israel since a ceasefire went into effect at 2 a.m, indicating an Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and the Gaza terror groups is holding.

There were also no reports of Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.

As the truce started, a frenzy of life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the end of the fighting.

“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.

Thousands also gathered Friday morning in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis outside the family house of Mohammed Dief, the shadowy commander of the Hamas military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who had ordered the rocket attacks. Supporters shouted “victory” and waved green Hamas flags.

Ali Barakeh, an official with Islamic Jihad, a smaller terror group that fought alongside Hamas, said Israel’s declaration of a truce was a defeat for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “a victory to the Palestinian people.”

More rallies are expected across the Gaza Strip later Friday.
Palestinians also came out into the streets in West Bank towns and in East Jerusalem, with some setting off fireworks in celebration.

In the Arab Israeli town of Um el-Fahm, a convoy of cars drove through the streets, honking their horns and waving Palestinian flags.

In Israel, the night was marked by an absence of rocket warning sirens, indicating that the truce appeared to be holding in its first hours.

The tentative ceasefire between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip went into effect at 2 a.m. Friday morning, its tenuous nature highlighted with violence and threats continuing until minutes before the deadline.

Israel’s high-level security cabinet voted in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza late Thursday night, potentially bringing an end to 11 deadly days of hostilities with the Hamas terror group.

But several salvoes of rocket and mortar fire from the Strip continued to target Israeli communities during the three hours following the announcement until shortly before 2 a.m.

One person was lightly injured when a mortar shell hit a print shop in the community of Be’eri near the Gaza border, Israeli authorities said.

The shell directly hit the building, according to Fire and Rescue Services. The victim, 53, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, medics said.

Palestinian media said the IDF was carrying out strikes in Gaza. There was no confirmation from the army.

Earlier, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendation of all security officials, the IDF chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet, the head of the Mossad and the head of the National Security Council, to accept the Egyptian initiative for a bilateral ceasefire without any conditions, which will take effect later.”

At the same time, the statement added that “the political leadership emphasizes that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation.”

Hamas foreign relations chief Osama Hamdan said that Hamas had received assurances regarding Israeli policy toward Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian terror groups have tied the hostilities in Gaza to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

“The resistance has forged a new equation and a new victory,” Hamdan said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz denied Hamas’s claims of assurances on Jerusalem as “completely false.”
US President Joe Biden issued a statement shortly before the ceasefire was to go into effect, saying he sees a “genuine opportunity” toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the cease-fire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an “hour by hour” effort to stop the bloodletting.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said. “My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that.”

Biden vowed to help Israel restock its Iron Dome interceptors.

While Israel stopped short of claiming victory, the statement from the PMO said that defense officials had “reviewed with the ministers Israel’s great achievements in the campaign, some of which were unprecedented.”

The officials told the ministers that Israel had “exhausted” all of its possible military achievements in the conflict with Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, according to the Ynet news site.

“Hamas is deterred and suffered serious blows,” an official was quoted as telling the ministers.

In a statement released after the meeting, Gantz cheered the Israel Defense Forces, praising the “unprecedented military achievements in terms of forcefulness, precision and strategic importance in the fight against terror groups in the Gaza Strip” during the battle, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Gantz said the army remained on high alert for additional attacks from Gaza and, echoing the PMO statement, said “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the operation.”

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock. Israel, in response, carried out an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says 232 people, including more than 66 minors, have been killed by Israeli strikes over the past 10 days. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF also says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured. Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have fired over 4,000 rockets and other projectiles at Israel.

Source: Aaron Boxerman and Judah Ari Gross – TOI

Header: An Israeli soldier walks at a staging ground near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)