Fireworks lit the skies as Palestinians flocked to the streets in large numbers on Thursday night, waving flags amid wild scenes of celebration as an Israel-Gaza ceasefire was agreed after 11 days of bloodshed.
When the ceasefire came into effect at 2am local time, thousands left their homes, gathering to chant Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest), firing rifles into the air, and singing and dancing for a truce that they claimed as a victory.
Muslims both in Israel and Gaza celebrated last week’s lost Eid al-Fitr by gathering in mosques to offer prayers and meeting at one another’s homes to feast. On 13 May the festival was marked instead by aerial bombardments and clashes with police.
“Today is when Eid al-Fitr begins. Yes, we are sorry and sad for our people who lost their houses and their relatives, but despite that, we will celebrate,” Ahmed Amer, 30, told the Associated Press.
Many also gathered at the Al-Aqsa mosque, the epicentre of this latest confrontation between Muslims and Jews, to mark the moment of ceasefire.
“The victory the resistance achieved over the occupation during the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem,” is how it was described by mosques blaring through loudspeakers.
In Tel Al-Hawa in Gaza City, people called out the name of Hamas’s top military commander Deif, who is a prime military target for Israel, chanting “with souls and blood, we redeem you, Deif.”
Egypt had mediated between Israel and Hamas, brokering talks for mediation after 11 days of intense fighting between the two. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on Thursday its acceptance of Egypt’s proposal for a “mutual ceasefire without any conditions, which will take effect later”.
Hamas accepted “mutual and simultaneous” ceasefire but warned it still had its “hands on the trigger”.
The worst violence in years between Israelis and Palestinians ended after close to 250 people were killed on both sides in airstrikes, leaving many injured and a trail of destruction that has turned many major landmarks into rubble.
In Gaza, at least 232 people were killed, including 65 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza health ministry.
In Israel 12 were killed, including two children and a soldier. The Israeli military said 4,340 rockets were launched at Israel by militants over the course of the 11 days – by far more than the total number of rockets fired during the entire seven-week war in 2014.
Israel struck hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip, including hospitals, schools, water infrastructure and multi-storey towers housing homes and media offices, drawing fierce international criticism.
The decision to call a truce came after international pressure and was welcomed by the UK, US, Pakistan, and other countries as well as the United Nations.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the “UK continues to support efforts to bring about peace” and welcomes the end of “the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life.”
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said: “I welcome the ceasefire between Gaza & Israel. I extend my deepest condolences to the victims of the violence & their loved ones.
“I commend Egypt & Qatar for the efforts carried out, in close contact w/ the @UN, to help restore calm. The work of building Palestine can start.”
Pakistan, an ally of the Palestinians, also welcomed the ceasefire. Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called the truce the “power of collective, unified action”.
“This is the effort of every person and every nation, together for a just cause. May this ceasefire be the 1st step towards peace in Palestine,” he added.