Rattled by Gaza war and sectarian violence, Israel backs ceasefire

Many Israelis were shocked by scale of fire launched from Gaza and gaps in Iron Dome missile-defence shield

  The Israeli military says more than 4,300 rockets were fired from Gaza. Reuters
  The Israeli military says more than 4,300 rockets were fired from Gaza. Reuters

After enduring relentless rocket fire from Gaza, which shocked Israelis and killed 10 people in the country, Israel on Thursday agreed to halt the military campaign that has ravaged the Palestinian territory.

The unanimous agreement by Israel’s security cabinet came as the military heralded unprecedented achievements over the past 11 days of conflict.

While it praised the operations against Hamas militants and the destruction of some of the group’s tunnel network, the military has been condemned internationally for killing at least 65 children.

Israel rejected the criticism and blamed Hamas – whose infrastructure was destroyed by the fighting – for operating among civilians and for days rebuffed appeals for a ceasefire.

“I am determined to continue this operation until its objective is achieved: to restore quiet and security to you, citizens of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.

Although the military has widespread support in Israel, the latest war with Hamas shook the country and opened deep social divisions.

Many Israelis were shocked by the sheer scale of the attacks launched from Gaza – the military estimated that more than 4,300 rockets were fired – and the inability of defence systems to entirely protect them.

Those killed include a five-year-old boy in Sderot, close to the Gaza border, who died when a rocket ripped through the wall of his family’s safe room.

After the ceasefire was announced, Defence Minister Benny Gantz praised the security services and military for “achievements unprecedented in their scale, precision and strategic significance”.

Hamas said it agreed to the 2am ceasefire brokered by Egypt, with both sides cautioning that their commitment to the deal depended on adherence by the other side.

After the ceasefire, a senior Hamas figure claimed victory in a speech to thousands of people celebrating in Gaza.

"This is the euphoria of victory," said Khalil Al Hayya, the second most senior member of the movement's political bureau in the Gaza Strip, according to Agence France-Presse.

He also promised to reconstruct homes destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

Even if the truce holds and brings an end to the worst fighting since 2014, Israel is still reeling from weeks of intercommunal strife.

The Gaza conflict was preceded by weeks of violence in Jerusalem, in which hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers were hurt.

Protests initially focused on the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem as well as a ban on gatherings at the Old City’s Damascus Gate during Ramadan.

Global alarm was sparked when the violence reached the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Haram Al Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, which ultimately prompted the rocket fire from Gaza.

While demonstrators rallied in Jerusalem throughout the conflict, across Israel, there was a wave of attacks by Jewish and Arab mobs.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin decried the “senseless civil war” breaking out and, although the attacks decreased in recent days, they shattered illusions of unity.

Israel’s caretaker government has largely concealed its rifts and rivalries during the Gaza war, but the country’s political future is uncertain.

Mr Netanyahu is battling to stay in office while a rival seeks to form a coalition, which could lead to Israel’s longest-serving leader being removed from power.

Updated: May 21, 2021 10:51 AM

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