Thousands of people in the Gaza Strip and across the occupied Palestinian territory poured into the streets to celebrate a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian armed groups.
The ceasefire, which was welcomed internationally, was brokered by Egypt in the early hours of Friday after 11 days of relentless bombing of the besieged enclave and thousands of rockets launched into Israel by Hamas, the group ruling the Strip.
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said late on Thursday the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendations to accept an Egyptian initiative for an unconditional … ceasefire”.
Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad then confirmed the ceasefire in a statement, saying it would come into force at 2am on Friday (23:00 GMT on Thursday).
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished territory. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children, were killed.
Here are the latest updates:
Start of ceasefire like ‘first day of Eid’
Al Jazeera’s Youmna al-Sayed, reporting from Gaza City, said Palestinians began celebrating as soon as the ceasefire came into effect.
“They started cheering and cheering ‘God is Great’,” she said. “And for them today, it’s considered actually the first day of the Eid al-Fitr religious festival since the aggression started before the last day of Ramadan and they didn’t really get to celebrate Eid.”
Standing in the middle of ruins of a bombarded home, al-Sayed said displaced families had already returned from the United Nations-run schools they had taken shelter in “because of the very bad humanitarian conditions” they faced there.
“There was no water, no electricity and they went there taking nothing with them,” she said. “But these people now in these circumstances are compounded by the crisis of the very high poverty and unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip, as well as the restrictions in regards to the reconstruction materials that are allowed to enter the Strip. They have no alternative but to wait for the funding of the construction of their homes again.”
Israel and Hamas must build on ceasefire deal: EU commission
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, welcomed the ceasefire deal and urged both sides to build on it.
“I urge both sides to consolidate it and stabilise the situation in the long term. Only a political solution will bring lasting peace and security to all,” Von der Leyen tweeted.
I welcome the cease-fire that came into force today at 2am between Israel and Hamas.
I urge both sides to consolidate it and stabilise the situation in the long term.
Only a political solution will bring lasting peace and security to all.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 21, 2021
China to provide humanitarian assistance to help Gaza recovery
China will send assistance to help treat the injured and find new accommodation for those left homeless as a result of the Israeli air attacks on Gaza, state media reported, citing Tian Lin, a spokesperson for the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA).
Scepticism in Israel in face of government claims that attacks set Hamas back
There is scepticism in Israel about the bombardment of Gaza and the ceasefire despite claims from the country’s defence minister that the attacks had set Hamas back, according to Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, who is in West Jerusalem.
“There’s a lot of concern and questioning about where this has got anybody – apart from more destruction and more death,” Fawcett said, noting: “There’s a sense that this has all been said before.”
Hamas maintains ‘hands on trigger’ after ceasefire: Official
A Hamas official has told Reuters news agency that Israel must end its violations in occupied East Jerusalem and address damages from the bombardment of Gaza following the ceasefire, warning the group still has its “hands on the trigger”.
“It is true the battle ends today but Netanyahu and the whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance,” said Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau.
El-Reshiq said the movement’s demands also include protecting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and ending the eviction of several Palestinians from their home in East Jerusalem which he described as “a red line”.
“What comes after the battle of the ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ is not like what came before because the Palestinian people backed the resistance and know that the resistance is what will liberate their land and protect their holy sites,” El-Reshiq said.
Rebuilding a ‘daunting challenge’ for Gaza following ceasefire
Some people in Gaza who had been taking shelter in school buildings after their homes were damaged in Israeli raids began returning as soon as the ceasefire began, according to Al Jazeera’s Youmna al-Sayed who is reporting from Gaza.
But she said many residents had had their homes completely destroyed and the task of rebuilding the city would be a “daunting challenge” due to the closure of border crossings which has starved Gaza of crucial building materials, fuel and other necessities.
“We are talking about rebuilding a territory that was already suffering a dire economic situation, high unemployment and the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.
Celebrating the ceasefire in Gaza after 11 days of bombardment
More pictures are coming in of Palestinians celebrating Friday’s ceasefire.
For all the developments from May 20, click here.