Hamas claims victory as Gaza celebrates ceasefire

Cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas after a devastating 11-day offensive is seen as victory by Hamas.

The Gaza Strip experienced another sleepless night on Friday, but this time, it was not because of the intense Israeli bombardment that the besieged coastal territory was subjected to for the past 11 days.

Instead, tens of thousands poured into the streets, celebrating the ceasefire agreed upon by Israel and Palestinian armed groups, chanting in support of the resistance.

Mosques sounded the Eid al-Fitr prayers, a week after the holiday and sweets were passed around in a celebration that had been postponed by death and destruction. People also took the chance to visit those whose relatives had been killed.

The ceasefire celebrations extended to several cities within the occupied West Bank and Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, with many praising the armed groups and the steadfastness of the Palestinians in Gaza.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, 248 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s latest offensive, including 66 children and 39 women. At least 1,910 others were wounded. More than 90,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure and many civilian buildings were badly damaged or completely levelled.

On the Israeli side, 12 people were killed, including three foreign workers.

The ceasefire, brokered by mediator Egypt, saw the “mutual and unconditional” cessation of hostilities between the Israeli army and Palestinian armed groups that began at 2am on Friday (23:00 GMT on Thursday).

No terms were officially given, and Israel’s security cabinet said it had voted unanimously in favour of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza truce.

However, Hamas spokesperson Abdel-Latif al-Qanou told Al Jazeera the armed groups had imposed their own conditions.

He said they included an end to forced expulsions of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and to incursions by Israeli security forces into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Israel has withdrawn in the face of the armed resistance, and did not obtain any of its objectives it said it would when it launched its offensive,” al-Qanou said.

For now, the ceasefire is holding, although Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday yet again, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and sound grenades.

“Israel is now being tested, and the resistance groups in Gaza are watching how it will react,” al-Qanou said.

“This ceasefire is but a pause, a chance to gain more strength to confront any further Israeli aggression.”

‘Embarrassing ceasefire’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the offensive has dealt Hamas a “blow it cannot imagine”, going so far as to say it has “changed the equation” and set back Hamas for years.

Netanyahu said the Israeli military had destroyed Hamas’s tunnel network in Gaza, as well as many rocket factories and stores, and he claimed that more than 200 Palestinian fighters had been killed – including 25 senior figures.

However, many Israeli politicians slammed the ceasefire as a humiliating capitulation to Hamas.

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar called the ceasefire “embarrassing,” and lamented that even “with the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to get from Hamas a ‘ceasefire with no conditions’.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right member of Knesset, said, “the embarrassing ceasefire is a grave capitulation to terror and to Hamas’s impositions.”

Avigdor Lieberman, who quit his position as defence minister in 2018 after Israel agreed to an Egypt-mediated deal following two days of intense fighting in Gaza, called the ceasefire “another failure of Netanyahu”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at the Hakirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 19, 2021 [Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo]

‘Unprecedented Palestinian support’

Adnan Abu Amer, a Palestinian political analyst based in Gaza, said the general consensus among Palestinians is that Hamas has won this round of fighting, both on the military and political front.

“Despite the offensive running for 11 days and comparatively causing little material damage to the Israeli side, Hamas has nevertheless inflicted a heavy blow to the image of Israel around the world – this time, more than the last war in 2014,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is due to the fact that the escalation did not stem from the Gaza Strip and the blockade, but rather from the collective issue – supported by the Islamic, Arab, and majority of the international community – that is imperative to the Palestinian cause, that of Jerusalem.”

Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Gaza fired thousands of rockets into Israel across the 11 days. Long-range missiles fired by armed groups in Gaza led to the shutting down of two main airports.

Palestinian worshippers gather before Israeli forces raid Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP] Meanwhile, Abu Amer said the rhetoric that the Palestinian Authority employs – such as upholding the two-state solution – has been widely received as being out of touch with what’s happening on the Palestinian street.

“[This rhetoric] undermines whatever rise in support Palestinians have for Hamas after every offensive,” Abu Amer said.

“This time, we’ve seen unprecedented Palestinian support [for the resistance] across the country, affirming that Israeli policies in Gaza are also an extension of policies in Jerusalem, the West Bank and against the Palestinians living within the 1948 territories,” he said.

“Before the Palestinians in these territories would come out in candle-lit vigils in solidarity with Gaza, but this time, they represented a clear part of the resistance against Israel,” Abu Amer said.

A general strike was carried out by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on Monday across all territories. In the occupied West Bank, at least 28 Palestinians were killed in protests spanning several days against the Israeli army, the ministry of health said, with thousands more wounded.

For now, Hamas and Israel clearly want a ceasefire, no matter how shaky, Abu Amer concluded. The Gaza Strip is in need of a break following the severe Israeli pummelling.

For Palestinians in Gaza, the ceasefire is but a respite, and represents hope that the continuing struggle of daily life suffered as a result of the crippling blockade on the coastal enclave will end, sooner or later.

“As with any movement that exposes the crimes of Zionism and challenges the European and US-backed narrative, global solidarity is sweet, but the most important victory in my opinion is that it has diminished the possibility that Israel will be sitting on our chests for a long time,” Mahmoud Qudaih, a Palestinian social media user from Khan Younes said.

“We bury our martyrs and we take a breath to go on, because the war of liberation continues and does not stop.”