Ceasefire holds; Netanyahu says equation has changed; U.S. promises to help rebuild Gaza
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding Friday morning, as the sounds of airstrikes and rocket fire were replaced by celebratory gunfire in the coastal enclave. The ceasefire was brokered by Egypt and had no conditions.
The Gaza health ministry said Friday that 243 Palestinians had been killed in the 11 days of intense fighting, including 66 children. Israel counted some 4,000 rockets fired from Gaza, many into major cities and town in the country’s center; 12 people were killed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had “changed the equation” in its decades-long, cold and hot and cold again war with Hamas and said inflicted severe wounds on the enemy.
“If Hamas thinks that we will tolerate a trickle of rockets, it is mistaken,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will respond with a different kind of force to any firing on Gaza border commutes. What was is not what will be.”
“We changed the equation not only during the days of the campaign but also in the future,” Netanyahu added.
President Biden said Thursday that the United states would help rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure and “provide rapid humanitarian assistance,” working with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority — he specifically said, “not Hamas” — “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.”
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” Biden said in a speech Thursday evening after the ceasefire was announced. “My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I’m committed to working for it.”
Biden said he had spoke six times to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the last two weeks, and more than once to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tweeted overnight that he would soon visit the region.
Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Friday to allow international aid and other goods into Gaza.
The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, said on Friday that the authority would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court alleging that Israel had committed war crimes during the conflict.
Israeli officials have said they targeted Hamas military commanders and the underground tunnels they use to store weapons and plan operations. But several high-rise residential towers and one containing the offices of the Associated Press and other news outlets were also destroyed or damaged, along with water, sewage and electricity infrastructure.
The latest escalation began Monday, May 10, when Hamas sent a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem, in response to Israel’s restrictions on Muslim worshippers at the Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City, and to planned evictions of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. It was Israel’s fourth intense battle with Hamas since Israel withdrew its settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2006: there was a three-week incursion in 2008-9; an eight-day war in 2012; and a summer-long conflict in 2014 that killed more than 2,000 Gaza residents, 67 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians.
The Israel Defense Forces said on Friday that it had killed at least 200 operatives of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad during the operation, and destroyed 60 miles of tunnels.
The escalation disrupted negotiations in Israel’s ongoing political stalemate, where four elections in two years have failed to form a stable governing coalition. Netanyahu was unable to cobble together the required 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members after the latest election, in March, so Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, now has an opportunity to do so, though his potential partners balked when the fighting broke out.
On Friday, Lapid criticized Netanyahu’s leadership of the operation, saying: ”Israeli citizens and mainly Gaza border communities suffered heavy fire, and didn’t get an accomplishment.”
But Netanyahu said the operation had achieved its goals and took personal credit for a campaign that “undertook daring and innovative acts without engaging in needless adventures.
“The public and Hamas don’t know everything, but the totality of our achievement will be revealed over time,” he said. “When we together launched the operation, I defined its central goal – to inflict a hard blow on the terror organizations and restore quiet on the basis of deterrence.”