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Fresh clashes break out in Jerusalem, as Israel-Hamas ceasefire holds

Thousands of displaced Gazans have started going back to their homes to check for damage, while Israelis returned to normal life.

Palestinians run from sound bombs thrown by Israeli police at the Dome of the Rock shrine at al-Aqsa mosque.
Palestinians run from sound bombs thrown by Israeli police at the Dome of the Rock shrine at al-Aqsa mosque.
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated May 21st 2021, 8:19 PM

FRESH CLASHES BETWEEN Palestinians and Israeli police broke out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, two weeks after unrest at the sensitive religious site triggered deadly hostilities in Gaza.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “riots broke out” at the Al-Aqsa esplanade which is Islam’s third holiest site and also revered by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.

“Hundreds of people threw rocks and petrol bombs at police officers who responded at the scene and began dispersing the rioters,” Rosenfeld said in a statement. 

AFP reporters at the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City said clashes were ongoing.

Police have fired rubber bullets and used stun grenades at the site, according to an AFP reporter.

Days of unrest at Al-Aqsa during Islam’s holy fasting month of Ramadan led Hamas, the Islamist group that controls, to demand Israeli forces vacate the compound by 6pm (4pm Irish time) on 10 May.

Hamas then fired rockets at Jerusalem when the deadline expired. Israel then commenced a heavy aerial campaign targeting Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.

Ceasefire

A ceasefire to end the Gaza hostilities appeared to be holding today, after it came into force in the early hours of this morning, following 11 days of deadly fighting that pounded the Gaza Strip and forced many Israelis to seek shelter from rockets.

Celebrations were heard on Gaza streets in the minutes after the truce began as cars honked their horns and some guns were fired in the air, AFP journalists said, while in the occupied West Bank, joyful crowds also took to the streets.

With no alerts sounding in Israel to warn of incoming Hamas rockets, the ceasefire appeared to be holding in the early hours of today.

Thousands of displaced Gazans started going back to their homes to check for damage, while Israelis returned to normal life. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said its priority was to identify and help those left homeless in the Gaza Strip.

The truce brokered by Egypt, that also included Gaza’s second-most powerful armed group, Islamic Jihad, was agreed following mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed.

After the ceasefire began, Palestinians in Gaza trickled out of schools where they had taken shelter, a UN official said, while rescuers said they were working with their meagre resources to remove rubble and rescue any survivors.

Nazmi Dahdouh, 70, said an Israeli strike had destroyed his home in Gaza City.

“We don’t have another home. I’ll live in a tent on top of the rubble of my home until it’s rebuilt,” the father of five said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s bombing campaign of Palestinian armed groups had killed “more than 200 terrorists” in Gaza, including 25 senior commanders – an “exceptional success”.

The enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas also claimed “victory”.

“We have dealt a painful and severe blow that will leave its deep marks” on Israel, said the movement’s political chief Ismail Haniyeh, pledging to rebuild Gaza.

He also thanked Iran for “providing funds and weapons” to Hamas.

International reaction

US President Joe Biden welcomed the deal.

“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working toward it,” Biden said at the White House, hailing Egypt’s role in brokering the agreement.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the security cabinet had “unanimously accepted the recommendation of all of the security officials… to accept the Egyptian initiative for a mutual ceasefire without pre-conditions”.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad also confirmed the ceasefire in statements.

“This is the euphoria of victory,” said Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas figure, in front of a crowd of thousands of Palestinians who had gathered in the streets to celebrate.

The Israeli statement said its aerial campaign had made “unprecedented” achievements in Gaza, a territory it has blockaded since 2007, the year of Hamas’s takeover.

“The political leadership emphasises that it is the reality on the ground that will determine the future of the operation,” it added.

israeli-military-offensive-continues-in-gaza Palestinian rescue teams putting out a fire at the site of a house destroyed by fighter jets. Source: Ahmad Hasaballah

The EU welcomed the ceasefire and insisted that working toward a “two-state solution” was the only viable option.

“We are appalled and regret the loss of life over these past 11 days,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“As the EU has consistently reiterated, the situation in the Gaza Strip has long been unsustainable.”

Beijing welcomed the truce and said the international community now needed to “extend helping hands” to the region.

It said it would commit $1 million in emergency aid and a further $1 million to UN relief efforts for the Palestinians.

“The international community should promote the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestine issue on the basis of the two-state solution,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said while Moscow was satisfied with the truce, more needed to be done.

“This is an important but still insufficient step,” she said.

“In order to avoid a resumption of violence, we must double international and regional efforts on relaunching direct political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday he would be “prepared at any time to go to Israel, to the Middle East, if that would serve the purpose of moving beyond the violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Palestine’s top diplomat said the ceasefire in Gaza is “not enough at all” and the world must now tackle the difficult issues of Jerusalem’s future and achieving an independent Palestinian state.

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Riad Al-Malki told reporters at an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly on the conflict that while a ceasefire is good it does not address “the core issue” that started the violence.

He said that is Jerusalem, citing the “desecration” by Israeli soldiers and settlers of the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Israeli policy of evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city’s different neighbourhoods including Sheikh Jarra.

Egypt to monitor situation

Fighting erupted earlier this month after weeks of tensions in Jerusalem, notably over planned evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, and clashes at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The Israeli army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have since fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, but the overwhelming majority of those headed for populated areas were intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.

The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including two children and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police say.

Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, as well as fighters, and have wounded another 1,900, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Vast areas have been reduced to rubble and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas authorities.

Diplomatic sources told AFP in Cairo that “two Egyptian delegations will be dispatched to Tel Aviv and the Palestinian territories to monitor its [the ceasefire] implementation and procedures to maintain stable conditions permanently.”

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