The sirens across southern Israel were silent early Friday morning, and the thunder of bombs bursting in Gaza City was replaced by sounds of celebratory gunfire as a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas went into force, bringing an end to more than 10 days of fighting that claimed more than 200 lives.
The truce, mediated by Egypt, began at 2 a.m. in Israel as people on either side of the divide watched nervously to see whether it would hold.
As morning dawned with no reported violations of the truce, both sides were beginning to take stock of the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in seven years.
The Israeli aerial and artillery campaign killed more than 230 people in Gaza, many of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry, and badly damaged the impoverished territory’s infrastructure, including the fresh water and sewer systems, the electrical grid, hospitals, schools and roads. The primary target was Hamas’s extensive network of tunnels for moving fighters and munitions, and Israel also sought to kill Hamas leaders and fighters.
More than 4,000 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since May 10, killing 12 people, mostly civilians.
Hamas and Israel have been engaged in some form of conflict since the Palestinian group was founded in the 1980s. This particular round of military action began as Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in response to several police raids on the Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from their homes in the city.
Even with the pause in fighting, the underlying causes of the conflict remain: the dispute over land rights in Jerusalem and the West Bank, religious tensions in the Old City of Jerusalem and the absence of a peace process to resolve the conflict. Gaza remains under a punishing blockade by Israel and Egypt.
But the immediate concern for world leaders was the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the growing death toll — which included dozens of Palestinian children.
President Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel six times in recent days — turning increasingly blunt as the crisis stretched on. He warned the Israeli leader that he could not withstand mounting international criticism of the Gaza strikes for long.
The president’s advisers said he believed he could quietly push Mr. Netanyahu, whom he has known for 40 years, to bring an end to the violence. And in the hours before the cease-fire announcement, Mr. Biden also held a call with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt to discuss the possibility of brokering a deal.
After the agreement was announced, Mr. Biden offered praised what he described as a “mutual, unconditional” cease-fire.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks delivered at the White House, “and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”
Diplomats from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations worked intensively to broker the deal between Hamas and Israel, which do not talk to each other directly.
The final details were hammered out late Thursday, and Mr. Netanyahu’s office security cabinet voted unanimously to accept the Egyptian proposal. Around the same time, Hamas officials confirmed that they, too, had accepted.
Each side cautioned that its compliance could depend on the other’s actions.
GAZA CITY — As the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect at 2 a.m. local time on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza City to celebrate what Hamas supporters were calling a defeat of the Israeli forces.
With the skies free from the threat of Israeli bombardment for the first time since May 10, loudspeakers at mosques blared “God is great,” a chant more often heard during holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Voices on speakers called on people to come out “to celebrate the victory,” while some Hamas supporters passed out sweets and others toted weapons on their shoulders, occasionally firing into the air.
“I feel we won,” said Ibrahim Hamdan, 26, adding that barrages of rocket attacks by Hamas had forced Israel to accept the cease-fire.
“It’s the first time that the resistance has hurt the enemy,” he said.
Ibrahim al Najjar, a 26-year-old who joined the rally with two friends, said Hamas had achieved a milestone when its rockets reached Tel Aviv, the bustling Israeli coastal city that for the first time last week found itself in the militants’ firing line, with Israeli beachgoers forced to scurry to safety.
“It’s the most luxurious victory, because at least we struck Tel Aviv,” Mr. al Najjar said. “I wasn’t as happy on my wedding day as I was when they hit Tel Aviv.”
Some Hamas supporters chanted, “We are Mohammed Deif’s men,” referring to the Hamas military commander whom Israeli officials said they had been trying to kill, so far without apparent success.
But the celebratory mood belied the devastation in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 Palestinians, destroyed buildings, left huge swaths of the territory without electricity or water, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Some in the crowd questioned what the conflict had accomplished.
Ramadan Smama came out not to celebrate, he said, but to take in the destruction. The 53-year-old said that he admired the growing capabilities of Hamas’s arsenal of rockets, but that it was too soon to tell whether the fighting would improve life for the two million people of Gaza.
“I don’t see achievements,” he said, “but I hope there will be achievements.”
The United States plans to be at the forefront of an international effort to help rebuild Gaza, an undertaking that is likely to cost billions of dollars and include restoring health and education services and other reconstruction, a senior Biden administration official said on Thursday.
The official said that rebuilding Gaza — likely to be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of diplomatic considerations in the region now that a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants was underway.
The administration is also considering how to foster relations and coordination among Palestinian political factions in Gaza and the West Bank. The rivalry between the Palestinian Authority, which exerts partial control in parts of the occupied territories, and Hamas, which governs Gaza and which the United States, Israel and others consider a terrorist group, has been a major obstacle in international efforts to aid Palestinians.
Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — not only to help residents, but also because officials and experts said it could help create leverage with Hamas, which has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
But Dennis B. Ross, a veteran American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, said that international donors would be wary of financing a costly reconstruction effort without assurances that any investments would not go to waste — as they all but certainly would if Hamas reignited hostilities.
Similar warnings were posed in 2014 after an eight-week war between Israel and Hamas damaged more than 170,000 homes in Gaza, displacing over a quarter of its population. The international community created a monitoring system to oversee the rebuilding efforts and block any attempts by Hamas to import supplies that could be used as weapons.
Mr. Ross said that any future monitoring system would need to be an effective, round-the-clock endeavor that would halt reconstruction if Hamas were found to be storing, building or preparing to launch rockets.
“The issue is massive reconstruction for no rockets,” Mr. Ross said. “There has to be enough oversight of this process to know that it’s working the way it’s intended. And the minute you see irregularities, everything stops.”
As Israel and Hamas observed a tenuous cease-fire that began early Friday, Israeli commentators took stock of the 11-day conflict, with many questioning what the extended bombardment of Gaza had accomplished.
Several analysts and political rivals criticized Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over an operation that they said had drawn international condemnation but failed to deliver a decisive blow to Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. Despite the heaviest Israeli bombardment since 2014, they noted, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel until the hours before the truce went into effect.
“With the best intelligence and air force in the world, Netanyahu managed to extract from Hamas an ‘unconditional cease-fire.’ Embarrassing,” tweeted Gideon Saar, a conservative politician and former ally of Mr. Netanhayu’s who broke with the prime minister in 2019.
Every round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings questions and recriminations in Israel, which as the superior military power is often criticized for its use of disproportionate force and for the harm to civilians. Israeli airstrikes since May 10 killed more than 230 people in Gaza, according the Gaza health ministry, wounded more than 1,600 and prompted protests in cities around the world.
Sharon Idan, a correspondent for Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster, tweeted that Israel had been pressured by international leaders into ending the Gaza operation, while Hamas “stands firm” and “has not really been defeated.” The United States is Israel’s strongest ally, but in recent days President Biden, facing pressure from within his own party, raised the pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to bring the attacks to a halt.
“Israel will go into a cease-fire because the world is tired of fighting,” Mr. Idan wrote. “Not because the time has come and not because things will change.”
Israeli military officials said that the operation had destroyed dozens of miles of underground tunnels and severely curtailed Hamas’s ability to launch attacks.
“The damage to Hamas will certainly influence the organization’s decisions to launch rockets in the future,” Itai Brun, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told Israeli Army radio.
Mr. Netanyahu’s main rival, Yair Lapid, who is trying to form a new government after the prime minister failed to do so last month, praised the army and the performance of Iron Dome, Israel’s U.S.-funded missile-defense system, which intercepted many of the rockets that Hamas fired before they could do damage inside Israel.
But he criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s government for not securing the return of Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas, and for its inability to protect civilians in border towns such as Ashkelon, where Hamas projectiles killed two residents last week.
“The army succeeded,” Mr. Lapid wrote on Facebook. “The government failed.”
Gabby Sobelman, Myra Noveck and
Cease-fire agreements are precarious things, diplomats and Middle East experts cautioned, even as the deal between Hamas and Israel was reached on Thursday.
After announcing the agreement on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office warned that “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”
Similarly, a Hamas spokesman, Taher al-Nono, said on Thursday, “the Palestinian resistance will abide by this agreement as long as the occupation abides by it.”
No immediate violations were reported after the cease-fire began officially at 2 a.m. local time Friday. Past deals between Israel and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, have often fallen apart. But the agreements can offer periods of calm to allow time for negotiating a longer-term deal. They also give civilians a chance to regroup and allow displaced people to return to their homes.
Previous cease-fires have usually gone in stages, beginning with an agreement that Israel and Hamas will stop attacking each other, a dynamic that Israelis call “quiet for quiet.”
That means Hamas halting rocket attacks into Israel and Israel ceasing bombardment of Gaza.
Pauses in the fighting are usually followed by other steps: Israel easing its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian relief, fuel and other goods to enter; Hamas reining in protesters and allied militant groups that attack Israel; and both sides exchanging prisoners or those killed in action.
But bigger challenges — such as a more thorough rehabilitation of Gaza and improving relations between Israel, Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank — have remained elusive over the past several rounds of violence.
There is rebuilding after every cycle of violence, usually with aid from the United Nations, the European Union and Qatar, but without a permanent peace, reconstruction is always risky.
Despite the devastating toll on Palestinian civilians and the extensive damage to homes, schools and medical facilities in Gaza, the current conflict has been more limited than the wars Israel and Hamas waged in 2008 and 2014, when Israeli troops entered Gaza.
In July 2014, six days after the Israeli Army began bombarding Gaza, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that Israel agreed to. But Hamas said that it addressed none of its demands, and the cycle of rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes resumed after less than 24 hours.
Egypt announced another cease-fire two days later, but Israel then sent in tanks and ground troops and began firing into Gaza from the sea, saying that its aim was to destroy tunnels that Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Over the next several weeks, Israeli forces periodically halted their attacks to allow humanitarian aid, but the fighting continued.
In all, nine pauses in fighting came and went before the 2014 conflict ended, after 51 days, with more than 2,000 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis killed.
Hosam Salem for The New York Times
Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times
Dan Balilty for The New York Times
Hosam Salem for The New York Times
Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hosam Salem for The New York Times
These images capture some of the destruction and loss in 11 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The mob violence between Jews and Arabs has been among the most disturbing developments of the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, prompting President Reuven Rivlin of Israel to warn of the perils of “civil war.” This week, The Times’s Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner visited the Israeli city of Lod, a few miles south of Tel Aviv, as the conflict continued into its 11th day.
A veneer of calm has been restored to Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish town of 80,000. It was a stark contrast to the scene just over a week ago.
At that time, some 40 Orthodox Jewish families fled their homes as angry mobs rampaged in the streets. Many needed police protection when they fled and rioters set fire to cars, apartments, synagogues and even a religious school during three nights of unrest. About 30 families had returned by Wednesday.
Some Arab families from the same neighborhood were also forced to flee after dozens of right-wing Jewish vigilantes from outside the city, including armed West Bank settlers, came into town and attacked Arab property. Witnesses in the city said they had heard gunshots from both sides.
Even with calm mostly restored and most of the burned-out cars and trucks removed, the air is still filled with a faint acrid smell lingering from the arson attacks.
The city, which had an uneasy and fragile coexistence even before the latest conflict, remained under a state of emergency as hundreds of Border Police officers patrolled areas of friction.
A Jewish resident who was critically injured when Arab protesters threw a heavy rock at him from a bridge died of his wounds and was buried on Tuesday. Another Jewish resident who was stabbed and severely wounded a week ago remained in hospital.
Similar scenes of violence played out in other mixed cities and Arab towns, including Acre and Haifa, long proud of their relations with their neighbors. Jews beat a driver who was presumed to be Arab almost to death in a Tel Aviv suburb.
“I believe we can get back to where we were before,” said Avi Rokach, a leader of the religious community in Lod. “But it might take some time.”
Rami Salama, an Arab resident of a mixed Lod neighborhood that was worst hit by the violence, said, “I only want peace and love here, really.”
But he said he feared that peace might prove elusive as people seek vengeance for the violence and blood demands more blood.