Israel, Hamas Both Claim Victory in Cease-Fire
By VOA News May 21, 2021
Israel and Hamas both claimed victory Friday as a shaky cease-fire held after 11 days of fighting.
Thousands of residents took to the streets of Gaza when the cease-fire took effect 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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a television address Friday that the military operation had damaged Hamas' ability to launch missiles at Israel, killed more than 200 militants and destroyed parts of Hamas' tunnel network. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged only 20 fighters killed.
"Hamas can't hide anymore. That's a great achievement for Israel," Netanyahu said.
However, he warned that Israel will respond with "a new level of force" if Hamas tries to carry out further attacks.
Hamas also claimed victory, with chief Ismail Haniyeh saying the group successfully resisted a militarily and economically stronger foe, and he vowed to rebuild what was destroyed in Gaza.
The World Health Organization said 30 health facilities in Gaza were damaged. WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said at least 243 Palestinians were killed in the fighting and 8,538 were injured.
The United Nations said it has allocated $18.6 million to Gaza for emergency humanitarian needs. It says more than 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza.
Reaction to the cease-fire was mixed from residents in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Friday morning. Some criticized the government for what they described as a hasty move. Others praised the action as a necessary and positive one in the interest of peace.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Netanyahu informed him Thursday that Israel "has agreed to a mutual, unconditional cease-fire" with the Hamas militant group.
"I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I'm committed to working for it," Biden said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken posted on Twitter that he "will be traveling to the region in the coming days" and will meet with "Israeli, Palestinian and regional leaders."
Leaders from around the world have welcomed the Egypt-mediated cease-fire.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter, "All sides must work to make the cease-fire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life."
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that working toward a "two-state solution" was the only viable option.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said while Moscow was satisfied with the truce, more needed to be done.
"This is an important but still insufficient step," she said.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China will give $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, along with 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked his citizens for holding nationwide rallies to express solidarity with the Palestinians and said he hopes that they will one day have their own country.
Since May 10, Hamas had fired rockets at Israeli cities from Gaza, for what it said were rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel had retaliated with targeted artillery and airstrikes on leaders of Hamas and the group's infrastructure. The Israelis had faced international condemnation for blowing up high-rise buildings and striking refugee camps and other targets, which caused extensive civilian casualties.
"We held intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour, literally," said Biden of what he called U.S. "quiet diplomacy" to reach an agreement.
The U.S. president said Thursday he had spoken with Netanyahu six times over the past 11 days as part of his administration's diplomatic efforts behind the scenes to achieve a halt in the hostilities.
Biden said he also spoke Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
"I extend my sincere gratitude to President el-Sissi and the senior Egyptian officials who played such a critical role in this diplomacy," Biden said during televised remarks from the White House that lasted four minutes.
The Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, and several Middle Eastern countries were also involved in the discussions, according to Biden.
VOA's Megan Duzor, Fern Robinson and Steve Herman contributed to this report.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|