Thousands of displaced Gazans started going back to their homes to check for damage and Israelis returned to normal life Friday after a ceasefire appeared to take hold following 11 days of deadly fighting.
In Jerusalem, Israeli police cracked down on stone-throwing protesters, an AFP journalist and Israeli police said, two weeks after similar events led to the violent escalation between both sides.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s bombing campaign of Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip was an “exceptional success”, after the enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas had claimed “victory”.
In Gaza, thousands of Palestinians trickled out of the schools were they had taken shelter, a UN official said, while the civil defence said it was working with what little means it had to remove the rubble and rescue any survivors.
Nazmi Dahdouh, 70, said the Israeli military destroyed his home in Gaza City in an air strike on Monday.
“We don’t have another home. I will live in a tent on top of the rubble of my home until it is it re-built,” the father of five said.
Raed al-Dahshan, deputy head of Gaza’s civil defence, said authorities were “continuing to look for the missing under the debris”.
Before dawn, Palestinians honked their horns and some fired shots in the air minutes after the truce started, 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, calm reigned across much of the Jewish state with people heading to outdoor cafes in Tel Aviv.
The truce brokered by Egypt, that also included Gaza’s second-most powerful armed group, Islamic Jihad, was agreed following mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed.
– ‘Genuine opportunity’ –
Fighting erupted on May 10 after weeks of tensions in Jerusalem, notably over planned expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, and Israeli police moving in on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Gaza emergency workers Friday recovered five bodies and rescued around 10 survivors from the rubble of what appeared to be a tunnel hit by Israeli bombardment, officials said.
In total, Israeli air strikes have killed 243 people including 66 children since May 10, the health ministry says. Fighters are also among those killed.
Vast areas have been reduced to rubble and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas authorities.
The Israeli army said Gaza armed groups fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, but that the overwhelming majority of those headed for populated areas were intercepted by its air defences.
The rockets claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, a teenager and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thais among those killed, Israeli medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.
World leaders welcomed the ceasefire deal.
“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working toward it,” US President Joe Biden said.
The European Union insisted that working towards a “two-state solution” was the only viable option.
Russia and China called for a return to peace talks.
– ‘Exceptional success’ –
Netanyahu’s office earlier said the security cabinet had agreed to “accept the Egyptian initiative for a mutual ceasefire without pre-conditions”.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also confirmed the ceasefire.
“This is the euphoria of victory,” senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Hayya told thousands of Palestinians who had gathered in the streets to celebrate.
Israel said its air campaign had made “unprecedented” achievements in Gaza, a territory it has blockaded since 2007, the year of Hamas’ 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 “will meet with Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Diplomatic sources told AFP “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.”
– ‘Serious dialogue’ –
UN chief Antonio Guterres said Israel and the Palestinians now had a responsibility to have “a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”
He also called on the international community to work with the UN on a “robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery”.
Shortly after the truce was announced, Islamic Jihad boasted it had “managed to humiliate” Israel.
It also vowed to remain the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem, holy to both Muslims and Jews.
Israel’s bombardment of what it describes as military targets in Gaza began after Israeli police cracked down on Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Hamas had given Israeli forces until 6:00 pm on May 10 to leave the compound.
When the deadline expired, Hamas launched rockets, prompting Israel’s military to launch air strikes on Gaza.
The Israeli army said it hit hundreds of military targets in Gaza and killed dozens of militant commanders.
But Palestinian and international groups accused Israel of recklessly hitting non-military sites.
Israel says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes, and blames Hamas for placing military sites in densely populated areas.
The unrest also sharply heightened tensions and sparked violence between Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Security forces have clashed with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. At least 25 Palestinians have been killed, though Israel claimed at least five had attempted to attack its forces.