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Israel, Gaza leaders claim military victory

Nov. 22, 2012 3:09 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 24, 2012 1:45 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Leaders in Gaza and Israel on Thursday both claimed victory after an eight-day war which left 170 Palestinians and five Israelis dead.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed an Egyptian-mediated truce to halt hostilities on Wednesday night.

In Cairo, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal said his movement would respect the truce if Israel did, but would respond to any violations. "If Israel complies, we are compliant. If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger," he told a news conference.

Mashaal thanked Egypt for mediating and praised Iran for providing Gazans with financing and arms. "We have come out of this battle with our heads up high," he said, adding that Israel had been defeated and failed in its "adventure".

Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah also addressed the conference, claiming the war was Israel's "greatest defeat in history."

"We fought with honor, and we accept these understandings (ceasefire) with honor" he said.

But he noted Palestinian factions were on standby if Israel launched new attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Jihad's military wing the al-Quds Brigades said that while 10 of its fighters had been killed, they had fired 620 rockets at Israeli cities, and hacked more than 5,000 wireless communication devices for Israeli intelligence.

The brigades thanked civil defense teams and paramedics for their work, and praised the work of journalists in covering the conflict.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades said they had fired more than 1,500 rockets at Israeli locations during the conflict.

Heralding "victory," the brigades said they launched 11 long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and Herziliya and three at Jerusalem.

'Piece of paper'

Israel's defense minister said meanwhile that Israel dropped 1,000 times as much explosive on the Gaza Strip as had landed in Israel.

Ehud Barak said Hamas had suffered a heavy military blow, including the death of its top commander, killed in an air strike at the start of the operation on Nov. 14. He said the deal merely let Hamas surrender while saving face.

"A large part of the mid-range rockets were destroyed. Hamas managed to hit Israel's built-up areas with around a tonne of explosives, and Gaza targets got around 1,000 tonnes," Barak told Israel's Army Radio.

"So whoever misses what is happening in Gaza does not understand that this entire agreement is a paper bridge for the defeated so that they can explain to their public how they can even show their faces after what they were hit with for a week."

Barak dismissed the ceasefire text released by Hamas and Egypt as "a piece of paper which I don't remember anyone going around with -- there's no signature on it."

He appeared to confirm, however, a key Hamas claim that the Israelis would no longer enforce a no-go zone on the Gaza side of the frontier that the army says has prevented Hamas raids:

"If there are no attacks along the border ... then I tell you that there is no problem with them working the farmland on the perimeter up to the fence," Barak said.

But should Palestinians exploit such measures to breach the truce, Israel would be "free to act," he said, adding: "The right to self-defense trumps any piece of paper."

Israeli opposition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to "exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce", but told his people a tougher approach might be required in the future.

Facing a national election in two months, he swiftly came under fire from opposition politicians who rallied to his side during the fighting but now contend he emerged from the conflict with no real gains for Israel.

"You don't settle with terrorism, you defeat it. And unfortunately, a decisive victory has not been achieved and we did not recharge our deterrence," Shaul Mofaz, leader of the main opposition Kadima party, wrote on his Facebook page.

Some Israelis staged protests against the deal, notably in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, where three civilians were killed by a rocket from Gaza last week, Army Radio said.

In rocket-hit towns in southern Israel, schools remained closed as a precaution. Nerves were jangled when warning sirens sounded, in what the military quickly said was a false alarm.

National holiday

Meanwhile in Gaza, Municipal workers in Gaza began cleaning streets and removing the rubble of buildings bombed in Israel's air strikes. Stores opened and people flocked to markets to buy food.

"Israel learned 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."

Hamas declared Nov. 22 a national holiday marking "the victory of the resistance". Its spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said: "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 honor 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.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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