May 22, 2021, 01.34 AM
Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a cease-fire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the ruling Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on May 21, 2021, in Gaza City. Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a cease-fire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the ruling Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on May 21, 2021, in Gaza City.

WASHINGTON, KOMPAS.com - A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas began early Friday morning, returning an uneasy calm to Gaza and Israel.

Thousands of residents took to the streets of Gaza as the cease-fire took hold at 2 a.m. local time. Young men waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, passed out sweets, honked horns and set off fireworks.

Spontaneous celebrations also broke out in east Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank.

There was mixed reaction, however, from residents in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Friday morning. Some criticized the government for such a hasty move, as they called it, others praised the action as a necessary and positive one in the interest of peace.

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The death toll from the 11 days of fighting stands at 230 in Gaza, including 65 children, according to local health officials there, and 12 in Israel, its authorities said.

The United Nations says more than 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed him Thursday that Israel "has agreed to a mutual, unconditional cease-fire" with the Hamas militant group.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken posted on Twitter that he “will be traveling to the region in the coming days” and will meet with “Israeli, Palestinian, and regional leaders.”

Cease-fire negotiations

Hamas has fired rockets at Israeli cities from Gaza since May 10, for what it said were rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Israel retaliated with targeted artillery and airstrikes on leaders of Hamas and the group's infrastructure. The Israelis faced international condemnation for blowing up high-rise buildings and striking refugee camps and other targets, which caused extensive civilian casualties.

"We held intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour, literally," said Biden of what he called U.S. "quiet diplomacy" to reach an agreement.

Adi Vaizel looks at damage to his house after it was hit by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip this week, in Ashkelon, Israel, May 20, 2021. News reports said Israel's security cabinet and Hamas on Thursday had approved a tentative cease-fire. Adi Vaizel looks at damage to his house after it was hit by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip this week, in Ashkelon, Israel, May 20, 2021. News reports said Israel's security cabinet and Hamas on Thursday had approved a tentative cease-fire.

The U.S. president said he had spoken with Netanyahu six times over the past 11 days as part of his administration's diplomatic efforts behind the scenes to achieve a halt in the hostilities.

Biden said he also spoke Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

"I extend my sincere gratitude to President el-Sissi and the senior Egyptian officials who played such a critical role in this diplomacy," Biden said during televised remarks from the White House that lasted four minutes.

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The Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, and other Middle Eastern countries were also involved in the discussions, according to Biden.

"These hostilities have resulted in the tragic deaths of so many civilians, including children, and I send my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones, and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded," President Biden said.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli border police, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, May 13, 2021. FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli border police, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, May 13, 2021.

Biden said he had spoken with Netanyahu again Thursday and commended him "for the
decision to bring the current hostilities to a close within less than 11 days. I also emphasized what I've said throughout this conflict — the United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel."

Biden said he also promised the Israeli leader that the United States would replenish Israel's Iron Dome rocket interception system.

The two sides continued to trade blows before the cease-fire, with Israeli air sirens warning of incoming Hamas rockets, and an airstrike in Gaza heard by a Reuters reporter.

UN emergency meeting

Earlier, at the U.N., Israel's ambassador said his government wanted a cease-fire "but only after significantly degrading Hamas' terror machine."

"This is not a war between Israel and the people of Gaza," Ambassador Gilad Erdan said.

"This is not a war between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a war only between Israel and Hamas. We will never apologize for defending our citizens, even if some countries here might be happy to see a greater number of dead Jews."

FILE - Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, is pictured in Jerusalem, Dec. 11, 2018. FILE - Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, is pictured in Jerusalem, Dec. 11, 2018.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told reporters at the U.N., where he participated in a meeting on the situation, that "the carnage, the aggression, the attack, will stop. It is good that the Palestinian people, the more than 2 million of them (in Gaza), will be able to go to sleep tonight knowing that they will have a brighter tomorrow. But that's not enough, that's not enough at all."

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The Palestinian foreign minister said the issues that triggered this latest round of violence — the situation for Muslims at their holy sites in Jerusalem and the evictions of Palestinian families in parts of the city — must be addressed.

FILE - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki attends a meeting in Moscow, Russia, (5/5/2021) FILE - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki attends a meeting in Moscow, Russia, (5/5/2021)

The Biden administration had blocked efforts at the U.N. Security Council to issue a condemnation of the fighting and call for a truce, drawing criticism from some countries. All 15 council members must agree on such statements.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ?had ?reiterated his call for an immediate cease-fire, saying it? was ?urgent that hostilities?were de-escalated to prevent an "uncontainable cross-border security and humanitarian crisis."

As the diplomats talked, there was more cross-border firing early Thursday. Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza City and the towns of Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi visit the site of a rocket attack in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah, (20/5/2021) German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi visit the site of a rocket attack in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah, (20/5/2021)

Diplomacy

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled to the region Thursday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He called the visit "a sign of solidarity with the people on both sides who fear for their lives day and night, as Israel must defend itself against Hamas' rocket terror."

Biden, in his Thursday remarks, said his administration "will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy" to work toward a lasting peace in the region.

In the near term, Biden said the United States is committed to work with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance support for the people of Gaza, as well as reconstruction efforts.

This will be done in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, which controls Gaza "in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal," Biden said.

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