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Aid reached Gaza as Israel-Palestinian ceasefire enters second day

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By Euronews with AP
Protesters and police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque in the aftermath of a devastating 11-day war between Israel and Hamas
Protesters and police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque in the aftermath of a devastating 11-day war between Israel and Hamas   -   Copyright  Mahmoud Illean/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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The fragile ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas militant group entered its second day on Saturday as convoys of emergency humanitarian aid were able to enter Gaza.

Humanitarian aid from Morocco was handed over to the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah after entering the region by land through Jordan. A Jordanian mobile field hospital was among supplies arriving in the southern Gaza Strip after passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering the enclave from Israel.

The United Nations has announced it has allocated over $4.5 million (€3.7 million) towards the rising humanitarian needs in Gaza. That's in addition to the $14m dollars (€11.5 million) of aid it announced earlier in the week.

The truce between Israel and Hamas came into force at 02:00 am local time on Friday and has largely held despite fresh clashes breaking between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police after Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

It is unclear what sparked the violence. Police fired stun grenades and tear gas at protesters while and Palestinians hurled rocks and at least one firebomb at officers.

Palestinians also clashed with Israeli troops in parts of the occupied West Bank, which has seen mounting unrest in recent days linked to the eviction of Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem.

Thousands of Palestinians were due to attend weekly prayers at Al-Aqsa on Friday, a week after Israeli police descended on the holy site, sparking retaliatory rocket attacks by Hamas.

Earlier on Friday, thousands of Palestinians rallied in the streets of Gaza as the ceasefire took effect after 11 days of fighting. The latest war left more than 200 people dead - the vast majority of them Palestinians - and devastated swathes of the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Thursday his Security Cabinet had unilaterally approved the proposal mediated by Egypt.

Hamas quickly followed suit and said it would honour the deal. "The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed,'' said Taher Nounou, a Hamas official.

Senior Israeli defence officials recommended accepting the proposal after claiming "great accomplishments'' in the operation, their statement said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that "the reality in the field will determine the continuation of operations."

Palestinians flocked to the streets in the small hours of Friday to celebrate when the time came.

Adel Hana/AP
Palestinian children wave Hamas flags as they celebrate the seeming end of the war on Friday morningAdel Hana/AP

Thousands gathered in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, outside the family home of Mohammed Deif, the Hamas commander who had ordered the rocket attacks. Supporters shouted “victory” and waved green Hamas flags.

The mood was more sombre in Israel, where Netanyahu faced accusations from his right-wing base that he had brought the war to an end too soon.

The decision came amid international pressure to halt the offensive. Even after the announcement, air-raid sirens indicating incoming rocket fire sounded in southern Israel.

'Meaningful negotiations'

The ceasefire came after a week of international pressure for the fighting - the worst wave of violence between Israel and Palestinians since the war in 2014 - to be brought to an immediate end.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the ceasefire brought "genuine opportunity" towards the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East.

"I believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy," he added.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is to visit the region "in the coming days" to meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional leaders, his spokesperson Ned Price has announced.

The ceasefire was also welcomed by the European Council President Charles Michel, who said this "opportunity for peace and security for citizens should be seized", and by the UK's foreign minister, Dominic Raab.

"All sides must work to make the ceasefire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life," Raab wrote on Twitter.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after the ceasefire announcement that "Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict."

He added that the international community must develop a reconstruction package "that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions" and that the UN is ready to work with Israel, the Palestinians, and international and regional partners to return to "meaningful negotiations" on a two-state settlement based on territorial lines before the 1967 war.

Counting the cost

Since fighting first broke out on May 10, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says targeted and compromised Hamas' infrastructure, including a vast tunnel network.

Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted.

The conflict broke out due to the planned evictions of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem, leading to Israeli police storming Al-Aqsa Mosque and Hamas firing a barrage of rockets in response.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Slovakia's Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok, second left, and Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek, center, survey the damage in the Israeli city of Petah on ThursdaySebastian Scheiner/AP

At least 230 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, including scores of children, according to Gaza health officials, while 12 people in Israel are known to have died.

Mob violence also racked mixed communities in Israel, with Muslim and Jewish businesses and places of worship torched.

A media building in Gaza City housing Associated Press and Al-Jazeera was flattened and United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip, ostensibly a place of safety, were also damaged. More than 50,000 people left their homes to seek shelter.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the ceasefire being announced, Guterres had said: "My heart goes out today to the victims and their loved ones.

"The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency.

"Hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed, damaged, or rendered uninhabitable. Airstrikes have damaged several hospitals, which were already short of supplies due to years of debilitating closures exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today."