Fragile cease-fire leaves Gaza in shambles, Netanyahu’s future in question and Jerusalem on verge of erupting again

Fragile cease-fire leaves Gaza in shambles, Netanyahu’s future in question and Jerusalem on verge of erupting again

Both Israel and Hamas claimed success after the cease-fire.

TEL AVIV — As a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants held into Friday afternoon, attention shifted from the 11-day conflict to the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, expected political fallout for Israel’s embattled prime minister, and a lasting Palestinian civil unrest movement that on Friday threatened to reemerge around a holy site in Jerusalem.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “riots” broke out Friday afternoon, following prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque, involving hundreds of Palestinians who “threw rocks and petrol bombs at police officers.” He said they were then dispersed by Israeli police. Similar flare-ups around the sacred compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, known as the Temple Mount by Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, triggered the Israel-Hamas conflict 12 days ago.

The development in Jerusalem came as international leaders including President Biden welcomed news of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Biden, along with other world leaders, pledged support for reconstruction in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes aimed at Hamas have damaged electricity and water systems, according to aid agencies. Gaza’s fishing zone has remained closed since May 9, according to the Israeli army.

Both Israel and Hamas claimed success after the cease-fire.

But in Israel, where the conflict had potentially boosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of staying in power after another indecisive election, far-right politicians on whom Netanyahu relies to form a coalition and many members of his base in Israel’s south lambasted the cease-fire.

Hamas, which lobbed over 4,300 rockets at Israel during the latest bout of violence, warned it was ready to continue fighting if the cease-fire did not hold. “Netanyahu and the whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance,” Ezzat El-Reshiq, a senior member of the militant group’s political bureau, told Reuters.

Here’s what to know:
A day after a cease-fire took effect at 2 a.m. local time, leading to celebrations in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, clashes broke out near the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and Hamas claimed to have come out on top. Israeli Defense Minster Benny Gantz pointed to “unprecedented” military achievements, and a senior Hamas figure claimed “victory.”
Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks continued until minutes before the cease-fire, but then stopped.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza stands at 232, including at least 65 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. In the West Bank, at least 21 Palestinians have been killed in the past week, officials there said.
The death toll in Israel stood at 12, including two children, after police said two Thai workers were killed Tuesday by rockets fired from Gaza.
In a Thursday night speech, Biden pledged humanitarian aid for Gaza, where aid agencies say a humanitarian crisis is brewing. Israel has kept checkpoints into Gaza closed throughout most of the conflict, and trucks carrying medical supplies and relief workers were turned back in recent days.

Biden said aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority — the Hamas rival that controls parts of the West Bank — “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.” The United States considers Hamas a terrorist group and avoids direct contact.

Netanyahu said in a televised statement Friday that in six calls with Biden over the past week, the White House expressed “clear, unequivocal and unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

“In an operation like this, there’s always international pressure, but I want to say that something has changed. This time, we received enormous international support, from dozens of countries around the world. I want to thank my friend Joe Biden … who is committed to continuing cooperation with us in strengthening the application of the Iron Dome,” said Netanyahu, referring to Israel’s partially U.S.-funded antimissile system that has intercepted some 90 percent of rockets fired into Israel during the latest conflict.

“We have an opportunity to change. We have damaged Hamas’s assets, and now is the time to strengthen the moderate forces around us,” Gantz said Friday. The defense minister said he has held discussions with a number of Israel’s new Arab partners in the region.

Biden drew criticism from Republicans after calling for a cease-fire on Monday, but his role in the Egyptian-led negotiations was praised by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in a tweet early Friday.

Tor Wennesland, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process, thanked Egypt and Qatar, which was also involved in the negotiations, while stressing that now “the work of building Palestine can start.”

“This is the power of collective, unified action. This is the effort of every person and every nation, together for a just cause,” tweeted Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister. “May this ceasefire be the 1st step towards peace in Palestine.”

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to go “beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”

But it was unclear if the terms had touched on any of those causes.

Riad al-Malki, the Palestinians’ top diplomat, said the cease-fire was welcome but “not enough” because it did not address the “core issue” that started the violence, the Associated Press reported. He cited the actions of Israeli authorities at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the potential eviction of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

A Hamas official, however, said on Hezbollah’s television channel that it won Israeli concessions on those two issues.

Israeli officials denied those claims, saying the cease-fire agreement called only for the immediate halt to military operations, and a security cabinet statement emphasized that the deal entailed a “mutual and unconditional cease-fire.”

“They understood during the operation, that we had very good intel and we can get them in the underground,” he said.

The cease-fire ignored Israeli demands for the return of the bodies of soldiers captured by Hamas in 2014 and two Israeli civilians being held by the group, said Amos Yadlin, a former deputy commander of the Israeli air force.

When Biden, who originally gave Israel the time required to carry out its operation, publicly called for a cease-fire in recent days, Yadlin said that Israeli officials felt that it “was a very good opportunity to establish some trust that was so needed between the Democratic administration and the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.“

In the minutes after the cease-fire took effect Friday morning, a different Hamas official claimed “victory.”

“This is the euphoria of victory,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, told a crowd of thousands in Gaza City.

At 2 a.m., Gaza residents cheered from their terraces. Celebratory gunfire sounded over the mostly dark neighborhoods, a few horns blared from cars braving streets pocked with shell craters, and praise for God rang out from mosques around Gaza City. Gazans paraded along the beach, holding up their phone lights.

As dawn approached, traffic and street vendors returned to Gaza’s streets. Municipality workers began removing rubble and opening roads. Tens of thousands of Gazans who had weathered the fighting in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or at the houses of friends or relatives began returning home. Festive Eid al-Fitr meals that had been postponed due to the fighting were held.

“We have the right to rejoice, despite the pain, wounds, destroyed homes and martyrs,” said al-Hayya, the Hamas leader. “I say in the name of our Palestinian people, we will build the homes destroyed by the occupation. We will return a smile and hope to the bereaved.”

Celebrations also broke out in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah and Hebron. The sounds of fireworks and convoys of honking cars rang out throughout East Jerusalem.

“I’m happy that there’s a cease-fire, but I don’t want the resistance to stop,” said Kristen Ghnaiem, 25, from Sakhnin, one of the many Arab Israeli towns where Palestinian solidarity protests have occurred in recent days. “We won’t forget Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, al-Aqsa. Or those arrested. Or those who died,” she said, referring to flash points that preceded the Israeli operation in Gaza.

In Israel, radio and TV stations that had carried around-the-clock news and commentary returned a regular lineup of pop and folk music and weekend television shows.

The Israel Defense Forces said the campaign, which included 200 hours of bombardment, had largely achieved the goal of sharply degrading Hamas’s capability.

“The destruction of war tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip and those that penetrated Israel was a strategic achievement, [as was] the destruction of the rocket production and development system, unmanned aerial vehicles and naval vessels,” wrote Ran Ben Yishai on the Israeli news site Ynet.

“But — and this is a big but — the IDF failed to destroy Hamas’ rocket and missile launch system. Much of the strategic weapons of Gaza’s terrorist armies are still usable, allowing Hamas and Islamic Jihad to threaten Israel and maintain a balance of terror in front of us.”

He added that the deterrence against Hamas gained from the fighting would depend on the policies adopted by the next Israeli government, whose composition remains unknown.

“We think this operation took them years back,” a senior Israeli military official said in a briefing on Friday, declining to be named in line with the briefing protocol. He did not give exact figures on Hamas targets struck but said the IDF had eliminated much of Hamas’s research and development and rocket production capabilities.

Earlier in the week, military officials said Israeli strikes destroyed at least 60 miles of tunnels that snake under Gaza, which the military has dubbed the “Gaza Metro,” along with at least 80 rocket launchers. Israel also said that at least 130 militants were killed.

The Israeli strikes were more intense than during previous Gaza wars, but Israel is now better at avoiding civilian casualties, the senior official said.

“I am happy that it’s quiet again and that I no longer have to count my steps from the safe room and keep the TV on in every room so if there’s a red alert I will know where it is … and that people have stopped being bombed and killed on both sides,” said Adele Raemer, 56, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Am, a few miles from the Gaza Strip. “I’m unhappy because I don’t really think that the diplomacy is being done. If there’s no change in strategy in the demand that we make for fulfilling the cease-fire, then what have we gained?”

Many of the children of the kibbutz stayed in other towns for the past week and a half of near-constant Hamas rocket bombardment and are waiting to see if the cease-fire holds before returning, said Raemer.

The cease-fire drew fierce criticism from Israel’s right wing, including several of Netanyahu’s allies and competitors.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party that has been courted by Netanyahu, tweeted that the cease-fire was “shameful” and a “surrender to terrorism.”

Gideon Saar, a former ally who now leads a small party opposed to Netanyahu, called the cease-fire “embarrassing.”

And Gadi Yevarkan, a junior security minister who belongs to Netanyahu’s Likud party, tweeted that a cease-fire without the return of the bodies of soldiers captured by Hamas in 2014 and two Israeli civilians being held by the group was “a reward for terrorism.”

Before the conflict erupted, the prime minister was days, perhaps hours, away from being ousted from his role. A coalition of opposition parties was reportedly close to announcing it had secured a bare majority of parliamentary votes to form a new government when Hamas fired missiles at Jerusalem. But the conflict derailed that effort, opening the door for Israel’s fifth election in two years.

“I’m currently giving you credit for running the [military] campaign,” tweeted Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the hard-right Religious Zionism party and a key backer of the prime minister.

“But if, God forbid, an agreement/understandings with Hamas includes, explicitly or implicitly, [anything whatsoever] related to Jerusalem … you can forget about forming a government.”

The discussion of another election was not the only sign of a return to normalcy in Israel on Friday.

The Israeli military announced it was lifting most restrictions on movement around the country, including near Gaza, and that schools would reopen on Sunday.

By Shira Rubin, Michael E. Miller, Steve Hendrix and Miriam Berger

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