Palestinians celebrate as ceasefire is agreed

Israel and Hamas announced yesterday that they have agreed an open-ended ceasefire in the Gaza war after seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

Palestinians watch as rubble from a building that was targeted by Israeli air strikes is cleared in Gaza City. Picture: Getty
Palestinians watch as rubble from a building that was targeted by Israeli air strikes is cleared in Gaza City. Picture: Getty

The ceasefire was to take effect at 7pm local time, but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

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In Gaza, police reported that an Israeli air strike collapsed a seven-storey building in the town of Beit Lahiya, the sixth high-rise toppled since the weekend. Blasts from Israeli air strikes could be heard in Gaza after the truce announcement was made.

Celebratory gunfire erupted in Gaza after 7pm. Chants normally reserved for Muslim holidays could be heard from mosque loudspeakers.

Earlier, officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups fighting Israel, had said the ceasefire included an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas’ demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month, said a senior Islamic Jihad official.

The details of the ceasefire would effectively mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad settled for terms similar to those that ended more than a week of fighting with Israel in 2012.

Under those terms, Israel, under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to ease restrictions gradually, while Hamas pledged to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel. The truce held for long stretches, but Gaza’s border blockade also remained largely intact. Since then moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to co-operate with Hamas.

Even though it apparently had little to show for it, Hamas declared victory yesterday.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” said a Hamas spokesman.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza by force from Mr Abbas’s Fatah in 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory each month.

During the war, Hamas had said it would only cease fire if the blockade was lifted. However, Israeli pressure on the group has been escalating. Hamas is believed to be left with just one-third of its initial rocket arsenal of 10,000, while Israel says it has destroyed most of Hamas’ attack tunnels.

Israeli strikes have destroyed or damaged more than 17,000 Gaza homes, according to the United Nations, leaving about 100,000 homeless. The number of dead has also been rising steadily, reaching at least 2,140 by yesterday, with more than 11,000 Gazans wounded since 8 July, Palestinian officials said.

On the Israeli side, 69 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers. Thousands of Israelis living near Gaza have fled their homes, including in recent days when Gaza militants stepped up mortar fire on southern Israel.