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Israel’s military says it dealt devastating blows to Hamas’s armed wing and its rocket arsenal, including longer-range missiles it says were supplied by Iran, in an assault that began with the assassination of the group’s acting military commander.
Israel says its Iron Dome anti-missile system proved effective in intercepting militant rockets heading for towns and cities, limiting the Israeli death toll to five.
The ceasefire headed off a possible Israeli ground assault that would undoubtedly have proved costly for both sides.
Gaza was on the receiving end of such an offensive in the winter of 2008-09, when about 1,400 Palestinians were killed and Hamas had trouble convincing people that the battering meted out to them over 22 days constituted any kind of victory.
This time, the spirit is different, with Hamas feeling it now has a genuine friend in Egypt’s new Islamist leadership and winning de facto recognition as Arab dignitaries flocked to Gaza on solidarity visits during the fighting.
“Israel learnt a lesson it will never forget” said 51-year-old Khalil Al-Rass from Beach refugee camp in Gaza City. “We are the spearhead, we don’t want anything from Arab countries, we only need weapons. We have achieved what no other country did.”
The Hamas authorities declared Thursday a national holiday, keeping closed whatever government offices survived Israeli attacks that flattened the Interior Ministry, police stations and official buildings, along with many apartment blocks.
A Palestinian flag flew defiantly over Gaza City’s police headquarters, bombed into a mess of broken masonry.
Local economist Omar Shaban estimated overall physical losses at $250 million, saying he hoped sympathetic countries such as Qatar and Turkey would step in to help rebuild.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group would focus on reconstruction, while observing the ceasefire as long as Israel reciprocated. “The ball is in the Israeli court,” he added.
“Resistance has achieved and has imposed a new formula.. If you hit Gaza, we will hit Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv.”
He brushed aside the idea that Hamas might have trouble forcing smaller rivals to honour the truce, saying: “Just as factions coordinated the escalation, they also agreed on calm.”
Nevertheless, Abu Mujahed, spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees, active in firing rockets at Israel, said there was no time to relax, in case hostilities began again.
“If they hit, they will definitely be hit and hit hard,” he said. “We are bracing for the worst,” he said.