Israel and Hamas has agreed to a ceasefire, halting a bruising 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip, brought life in much of Israel to a standstill and killed at least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis.
At 2am local time, just as the ceasefire took effect, frenzied life returned to the streets of Gaza. People went out of their homes, some shouting “Allahu Akbar” or whistling from balconies. Many fired in the air, celebrating the truce.
Like the three previous wars between the bitter enemies, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively. Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the Islamic militant group’s nonstop rocket barrages. Almost immediately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced angry accusations from his hard-line, right-wing base that he stopped the operation too soon.
Hamas also claimed victory but now faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from poverty, widespread unemployment and a raging coronavirus outbreak.
New Zealand told the United Nations it looked forward to “confirmation that a ceasefire may have been agreed” in Gaza and condemned the actions of both sides of the conflict for the loss of innocent life.
“There are serious doubts as to whether both sides have fulfilled their obligations under international humanitarian law to distinguish between military targets and civilians,” it said, noting in particular the shocking civilian death toll in Gaza.
The fighting erupted on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets towards Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound while Israel threatened the eviction of dozens of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The competing claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence in the past.
New Zealand warned that “prospects for a genuine peace are bleak – worse than at any time in recent memory” and reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution as “the only basis to achieve sustainable peace”.
“Without tangible progress towards a two-state solution, the violence we are witnessing will simply reoccur. More lives will be lost, more seeds of discord sown, and a region already beset by instability and conflict will become ever more complex, volatile and fractured.”
Since the current round of violence began, Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated.
Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, on which Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has governed autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has limited influence in Gaza.
Israeli attacks have also damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organisation said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.
Israeli bombing has damaged more than 50 schools across the territory, according to advocacy group Save the Children, destroying at least six.
While repairs are done, education will be disrupted for nearly 42,000 children.
About 58,000 Palestinians fled their homes, many of them seeking shelter in crowded United Nations schools at a time of a coronavirus outbreak.
– additional reporting: AP
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