TEL AVIV -As a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants held into Friday evening, attention shifted from the 11-day conflict to the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, potential political fallout for Israel’s embattled prime minister and renewed tensions in Jerusalem.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “riots” broke out Friday afternoon, following prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, involving hundreds of Palestinians who “threw rocks and petrol bombs at police officers.” He said they were then dispersed by Israeli police and that 16 of the demonstrators were arrested.
Twenty-one protesters were injured, according to Mohammad Fityani, a spokesman for the Palestine Red Crescent, in what Palestinians called a police raid on the holy site. Similar confrontations, in which Israeli forces shot rubber-coated bullets toward crowds of stone-hurling Palestinians, occurred on Friday afternoon in cities throughout the West Bank. Flare-ups around the sacred compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, known as the Temple Mount by Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, triggered the Israel-Hamas conflict 12 days ago.
“The Israeli government, by continuing its policy of provocation, attacks and incursions, is challenging international efforts that have been made to reach a calm, and stop the violence and escalation in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories, and to stop the aggression on Gaza,” said a statement from the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
With the coming of a new dawn, traffic and street vendors returned to Gaza’s streets. Municipality workers began removing rubble and opening roads. Tens of thousands of Gazans who had weathered the fighting in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or at the houses of friends or relatives began returning home. Festive Eid al-Fitr meals that had been postponed due to the fighting were held.
As bulldozers pushed sand into shell and missile craters, some Gazans returned to their devastated neighborhoods for the first time since the start of the confrontation. They assessed the destruction while celebrating what many characterized as a victory of endurance over a more powerful foe.
“We are still here,” said Zaid Rakhawi, 69, standing in front of a mound of rubble that had been the 14-story Shorouq Tower. “We resisted.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement Friday that during six calls with President Biden over the past week, the White House expressed “clear, unequivocal and unwavering support” for Israel’s right of self-defense.”
“I want to thank my friend Joe Biden … who is committed to continuing cooperation with us in strengthening the application of the Iron Dome,” said Netanyahu, referring to Israel’s partially U.S.-funded antimissile defense system, which the Israeli military says intercepted most of the rockets launched into Israel.
But Netanyahu came under fire at home, drawing criticism from, far-right politicians who’ve previously supported him. They lambasted the cease-fire, as did many members of his political base in communities close to the Gaza Strip.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party that has been courted by Netanyahu, tweeted that the cease-fire was “shameful” and a “surrender to terrorism.” Gideon Saar, a former ally of the prime minister who now leads a small party that opposes him, called the cease-fire “embarrassing.”
Before the conflict erupted, the prime minister was days, perhaps hours, away from being ousted from his post. A coalition of opposition parties was reportedly close to announcing it had secured a bare majority of parliamentary votes to form a new government when Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem. But the conflict derailed that effort, increasing the likelihood that Israel will now have to hold its fifth national election in two years.
“I’m currently giving you credit for running the [military] campaign,” tweeted Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the hard-right Religious Zionism Party and a key backer of the prime minister. “But if, God forbid, an agreement/understandings with Hamas includes, explicitly or implicitly, [anything whatsoever] related to Jerusalem … you can forget about forming a government.”
Foreign leaders including Biden welcomed news of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Biden, along with other world leaders, pledged support for reconstruction in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes aimed at Hamas have damaged electricity and water systems, according to aid agencies.
On Thursday night, Biden pledged humanitarian aid for Gaza, where relief agencies say a crisis is brewing. Israel has kept checkpoints into Gaza closed throughout most of the conflict, and trucks carrying medical supplies and relief workers were turned back in recent days. Biden said aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.” The United States considers Hamas a terrorist group and avoids direct contact.
“We have an opportunity to change. We have damaged Hamas’s assets, and now is the time to strengthen the moderate forces around us,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He said he has held discussions with several Arab countries that recently normalized relations with Israel.
Tor Wennesland, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process, thanked Egypt and Qatar, which was also involved in the negotiations, while stressing that now “the work of building Palestine can start.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to go “beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”
Riad al-Malki, the Palestinians’ top diplomat, said the cease-fire was welcome but “not enough” because it did not address the “core issue” that started the violence, the Associated Press reported. He cited the actions of Israeli authorities at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the potential eviction of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The cease-fire agreement also did not meet Israeli demands for the return of the bodies of soldiers captured by Hamas in 2014 and two Israeli civilians being held by the group, said Amos Yadlin, a former deputy commander of the Israeli air force.
Gadi Yevarkan, a junior security minister who belongs to Netanyahu’s Likud party, tweeted that a cease-fire without the return of those bodies and two Israeli civilians was “a reward for terrorism.”
At 2 a.m. on Friday, when the cease-fire took effect, many Gaza residents cheered, honked their car horns and unleashed celebratory gunfire.
In Israel, radio and TV stations that had carried around-the-clock news and commentary returned to a regular lineup of pop and folk music and weekend television shows.
“I am happy that it’s quiet again and that I no longer have to count my steps from the safe room and keep the TV on in every room so if there’s a red alert I will know where it is … and that people have stopped being bombed and killed on both sides,” said Adele Raemer, 56, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Am, a few miles from the Gaza Strip. “I’m unhappy because I don’t really think that the diplomacy is being done. If there’s no change in strategy in the demand that we make for fulfilling the cease-fire, then what have we gained?”
Many of the children of the kibbutz stayed in other towns for the past week and a half of near-constant Hamas rocket bombardment and are waiting to see if the cease-fire holds before returning, said Raemer.
The Israeli military announced it was lifting most restrictions on movement around the country, including near Gaza, and that schools would reopen on Sunday.
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The Washington Post’s Hazem Balousha in Gaza City and Loveday Morris in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.