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Gaza celebrates Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Palestinians

Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, Saturday, May 13, 2023.
Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, Saturday, May 13, 2023. Copyright Ashraf Amra/Copyright 2023, The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Ashraf Amra/Copyright 2023, The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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There were celebrations in the streets of Gaza on Saturday night as an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire brought hopes of peace after five days of bloodshed in which 33 Palestinians and two Israelis have died in air strikes and rocket attacks.

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Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire late Saturday, seeking to halt five days of intense fighting that killed 33 Palestinians, including at least 13 civilians. Two people in Israel were killed by rocket fire.

The tenuous cease-fire appeared to take effect just after 10 pm, with a last-minute burst of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes stretching several minutes past the deadline announced by Egypt. Late Saturday, Israel reported additional incoming fire and said it was again striking in Gaza. But the calm appeared to be quickly restored.

Fatima Shbair/Copyright 2023, The AP. All rights reserved
Palestinians celebrate the announcement of a cease-fire after five days of fighting between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza City, Saturday, May 13, 2023.Fatima Shbair/Copyright 2023, The AP. All rights reserved

While the ceasefire appeared to bring a sense of relief to Gaza's more than two million people and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who had been largely confined to bomb shelters in recent days, the agreement did nothing to address the underlying issues that have fuelled numerous rounds of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip over the years.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi said Israel had agreed to halt its policy of targeted strikes on the group's leaders. "Any stupidity or assassination by the occupation will be met with a response and the Zionist enemy bears the responsibility," he said.

But in a statement thanking Egypt for its mediation efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national security adviser, Tzachi Nanegbi, said that "quiet would be answered with quiet" and Israel would do "everything that it needs to in order to defend itself."

Tensions could quickly resume next week when Israel holds a contentious march through a main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem's Old City.

Still, as the truce took hold, the deafening whooshes of outgoing rockets and booms of Israeli airstrikes were replaced by the honking of cars in Gaza. Streets that had been desolate in recent days quickly teemed with people revelling in the ceasefire, waving Palestinian flags and flashing victory signs from speeding vehicles. Amid the celebration, a fruit vendor used a loudspeaker, enthusiastically promoting his supply of bananas.

The latest violence erupted Tuesday when Israeli airstrikes killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders. Israel said the airstrikes were in response to a burst of rocket fire the previous week and that its attacks have been focused on Islamic Jihad targets. But residents in Gaza said the homes of people uninvolved in fighting also had been struck.

At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbours were killed in those initial strikes, which drew regional condemnation.

Over the past few days, Israel has conducted more airstrikes, killing other senior Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying their command centres and rocket-launching sites. But the airstrikes showed no signs of stopping the rocket fire, prompting Islamic Jihad to declare victory.

Tsafrir Abayov/Copyright 2023 The AP All rights reserved
Israelis rest in the bomb shelter of an apartment building to stay safe from rockets fired from Gaza Strip toward Israel, Ashkelon, Israel, Saturday, May 13, 2023Tsafrir Abayov/Copyright 2023 The AP All rights reserved

Israel reported over 1,200 launches throughout the fighting, with some rockets reaching as far as the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. Israel said about a quarter of the rockets were misfired and landed in Gaza, while most of the rest were either intercepted or landed in open areas. But an 80-year-old woman and a Palestinian labourer who was working inside Israel were killed by rocket fire. A Palestinian human rights group said three people, including two children, were killed in Gaza by errant rockets.

It was the latest in a long series of battles between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the seaside territory in 2007. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars, and there have been numerous smaller flare ups as well.

Saturday's deal did not address many of the causes of the repeated fighting, including Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza, the large arsenals of weapons possessed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs semi-autonomous parts of the West Bank, said Gaza's main cargo crossing with Israel would open Sunday. Hamas' government warned on Saturday that if the crossing doesn't open, the lone power plant in Gaza will stop, further deepening a power crisis.

The more powerful Hamas has praised Islamic Jihad's strikes but remained on the sidelines during the latest round of fighting, limiting the scope of the conflict. As the de facto government held responsible for the abysmal conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has recently tried to keep a lid on its conflict with Israel. Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, a more ideological and unruly militant group wedded to violence, has taken the lead in the past few rounds of fighting with Israel.

Majdi Mohammed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
An Israeli border police officer fires tear gas towards Palestinian protesters during an Israeli army raid on Balata refugee camp near Nablus, Saturday, May 13, 2023Majdi Mohammed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

In a reminder of the combustible situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military raided the Balata refugee camp near the northern city of Nablus, sparking a firefight that killed two Palestinians. In a separate incident near the northern city of Jenin, Israeli police said they shot and killed a suspected Palestinian assailant who ran toward soldiers wielding a knife.

Majdi Mohammed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Palestinian mourners react during the funeral of Said Mesha and Adnan Araj in the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank town of Nablus Saturday, May 13, 2023.Majdi Mohammed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Israeli-Palestinian fighting has surged in the West Bank under Israel's most right-wing government in history. Since the start of the year, 111 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press. In that time, 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

The truce could be further tested on Thursday when Israeli nationalists plan their annual "Jerusalem Day" march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. The march, meant to celebrate Israel's capture of the Old City and its Jewish holy sites in 1967, is a frequent source of friction and helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.

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