Palestinians claim victory as Gaza truce faces early test

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians rallied by the thousands early Friday after a cease-fire took effect in the latest Gaza war, with many viewing it as costly but clear victory for the Islamic militant group Hamas over a far more powerful Israel.

The 11-day war left more than 200 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But the rocket barrages that brought life to a standstill in much of Israel were seen by many Palestinians as a bold response to perceived Israeli abuses in Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict.

The truce faces an early test on Friday, when tens of thousands of Palestinians attend weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, a flashpoint holy site revered by Jews and Muslims. Celebratory protests could spark confrontations with Israeli police, setting in motion another cycle of escalation like the one that led to the war.

Thousands took to the streets of Gaza as the cease-fire took hold at 2 a.m. Young men waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, passed out sweets, honked horns and set off fireworks. Spontaneous celebrations also broke out in east Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank.

The mood was more somber in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his right-wing base that he had halted the war too soon.

Like the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to have inflicted heavy damage on Hamas with hundreds of bruising airstrikes but once again was unable to halt the rockets.

Hamas also claimed victory, despite the horrifying toll the war took on countless Palestinian families who lost loved ones, homes and businesses. It now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from high unemployment and a coronavirus outbreak.

The cease-fire was brokered by neighboring Egypt after the U.S. pressed Israel to wind down the offensive. Netanyahu announced that Israel had accepted the proposal late Thursday, while emphasizing that “the reality on the ground will determine the future of the campaign.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to visit the region in the coming days “to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians.” the State Department said.

The fighting began on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.

The competing claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence in the past.

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