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Skies calm over Gaza as truce takes hold
Published Wednesday 27/08/2014 (updated) 28/08/2014 12:24
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Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel
following a ceasefire, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Aug.
26, 2014 (AFP/Abbas Momani)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- The skies over the Gaza Strip were calm Wednesday as a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians took hold after 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade.

Millions in and around the war-torn enclave enjoyed a welcome night of peace during which there were no strikes on Gaza, nor Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, the Israeli army said.

"Since the truce came into force, there has been no IDF activity in Gaza, and no rocket fire on Israel," a military spokeswoman said 12 hours after the guns on both sides fell silent.

In Gaza, where celebrations erupted once the truce took hold on Tuesday, the festivities continued late into the night as its 1.8 million residents reveled in the end of seven weeks of bloody violence.

The conflict, which began on July 8 when Israel began Operation Protective Edge in a bid to stamp out cross-border rocket fire, has claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians and 70 on the Israeli side.

UN figures show nearly 70 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, while 64 of the Israelis killed were soldiers.

The Palestinians said it was a "permanent" truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as "unconditional and unlimited in time."

Washington gave its full backing to the Egyptian-mediated deal, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on both sides "to fully and completely comply with its terms.

"We strongly support today's ceasefire agreement," he said early Wednesday, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope that the ceasefire in Gaza would set the stage for talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Britain also welcomed the truce, hailing Egyptian efforts to end the violence.

"The ceasefire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict," said Tobias Ellwood, Britain's Minister for the Middle East.

And Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet of diplomatic peacemakers, also welcomed the end of the bloodshed.

"The Quartet will now concentrate on a long-term plan for Gaza and for its reconstruction, including the effective and efficient re-opening and re-connection (of the enclave) to the outside world under the authority of the Palestinian Authority government," he said in a statement.

"Such a plan will enable a proper and decent life for the people of Gaza, as well as protect the security of the people of Israel."

'Can't believe I'm still alive'

In Gaza itself thousands flooded onto the streets in celebration, some firing joyfully into the air, among them gunmen from Hamas, AFP correspondents said.

Chanting and clapping, they surged through the battered streets, bellowing songs of victory as a man swathed in a huge green Hamas flag threw handfuls of sweets into the air.

"Thank God the war is ended. I can't believe I'm still alive with my kids!" 32-year-old Maha Khaled said.

"It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end."

Cars jammed the streets, their horns honking incessantly, as beaming women and children flashed victory signs and crowds of young men bounced up and down on rooftops, waving flags.

As night fell, there was no letup in the celebrations as the rhythmic thud of drums beat a celebratory pulse and a performer breathed fire to entertain the ecstatic crowd.

"Today Gaza showed the world that it is resisting and that it is stronger than Israel," said Tamer al-Madqa, 23.

'Ending the blockade'

News of the agreement first emerged from the West Bank city of Ramallah where a Palestinian official said that an elusive "permanent ceasefire" deal would involve an end to Israel's eight-year blockade of Gaza.

Ending the blockade had been a key Palestinian demand in truce talks, with Hamas hailing the agreement as a "victory for the resistance."

"The Egyptian initiative (includes) an opening of the crossings for goods and humanitarian and food aid to enter Gaza, as well as medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks," chief Palestinian truce negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed told AFP.

Restrictions on fishing would end "immediately" with boats allowed to fish up to six miles offshore with the limit later extended to 12 miles, he said.

There was no immediate word on when the crossings would be opened under terms outlined in the deal, or whether the fishing zone extension was in place.

At a later, unspecified date, the two sides would return to Cairo to discuss "the exchange of (Palestinian) prisoners and of the bodies of those (Israeli soldiers) killed" during the conflict, Ahmed said.

Egypt's foreign ministry confirmed there would be a "continuation of indirect negotiations between the two sides on other matters within one month of the ceasefire taking effect."

A senior Israeli official said the talks would resume in Cairo "within a month," saying its delegation would be "raising our concerns about demilitarization and preventing Hamas from rearming."

But in his first public appearance since the start of the war, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, who like other Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders had gone to ground to avoid being assassinated by Israel, pledged its military wing would continue "arming itself and developing its resistance capacity."
1 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
27/08/2014 11:38
Just a reminder : the fishing limit was established at 37 kilometers, or 20 nautical miles, by the Oslo Accords. In April 2013, the arbitrary limit Israel had imposed after its attacks on Gaza in November 2012 was reduced, again arbitrarily, from 6 to 3 nautical miles. Fishermen in Gaza need to go out to the 20 mile limit for a decent catch.

27/08/2014 14:02

3 ) Moses Kestenbaum ODA / USA
27/08/2014 16:48
Celebrating what? Over 2000 Deaths? Massive damages that will take 20 years to rebuilt? Hamas should be run out of town and hanged for their stupidity and murder.

4 ) Giacomo / USA
27/08/2014 17:59
- 66 years ago: a proposed independent Palestinian state, living next to a USAJewish one, in peace - Today: Still trying to form a proposed independent Palestinian state, living next to a Jewish one, in peace - 2 months ago: Restricted and monitored humanitarian aid coming into Gaza - Today: Restricted and monitored humanitarian aid coming into Gaza but with self-imposed devastation Define 'victory' as you wish, but Resist Resistance to Peace.

5 ) David / USA
27/08/2014 18:12
Victory? Hamas COULD have 'won' these very same accommodations from Israel simply by being PEACEFUL. No deaths, no destruction, just peace and quiet- if Hamas had behaved like a government concerned about its people and not a jihadist criminal gang. The people of Gaza won nothing. Is this really a truce or a hudna? Only time will tell. But unless Hamas renounces its charter, in a few months or years the fight will renew. And then Israel will have every right to turn Gaza to ashes.

6 ) Harry Monk / UK
27/08/2014 18:19
@2 Your Grand Victory. Gaza is trashed, they have no power, little water, there are dead dying and wounded. The Rosh Hashana terror tunnels are mostly destroyed. Many are homeless, many have no schools, many have no faculties to attend in the Islamic Uni, many have skin infections. You are lucky your enemy supplies you with power fuel food and medical aid for the past fifty days. And property prices in Qatar have risen, in anticipation of the embezzled money from Hamas flooding into Qatar.

7 ) JoeFattal / USA
27/08/2014 20:24
Without the 6 million jews that died in WW2 Israel wouldn't have existed and their State wouldn't have created. About 2100 Palestinians casualties perish in this war plus the wounded and the misplacement of thousands. So the proposed ceasefire with an ease to their restrictions and the opening of crossings gave Palestinians in Gaza a relief that was overdue but with a heavy price. Yes they can celebrated and mourn the dead that didn't die in vain. A Palestinian State is next.
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