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Friday 19 September 2014

Both sides declare Gaza war victory

War killed 70 people on the Israeli side, 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless

Published 27/08/2014 | 21:44

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A Palestinian militant of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, holds his rifle during a celebration of the victory rally at the debris of destroyed houses in Shijaiyah, neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A Palestinian militant of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, holds his rifle during a celebration of the victory rally at the debris of destroyed houses in Shijaiyah, neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014.(AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian masked militants of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, hold their weapons during celebration of the victory rally at the debris of destroyed houses in Shijaiyah, neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. An open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip was holding Wednesday. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian masked militants of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, hold their weapons during celebration of the victory rally at the debris of destroyed houses in Shijaiyah, neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Smoke, dust and debris rise after an Israeli strike hit Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Smoke, dust and debris rise after an Israeli strike hit Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Both Israel's Prime Minister and Hamas have declared victory in the Gaza war, though their competing claims left questions over the future of their uneasy ceasefire.

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Benjamin Netanyahu's comments, delivered in a prime-time address on national television, appeared aimed at countering critics of the war, with both hard-liners in his governing coalition and residents of rocket-scarred southern Israel saying the war was a failure because it did not halt Hamas's rocket attacks or oust the group from power.

Scenes from the Israel - Gaza conflict which has ended with both sides claiming victory

Masked Hamas militants carrying heavy weapons gave their own address upon the rubble of one destroyed Gaza neighbourhood, though their own major demands will not be addressed until indirect talks with Israel begin again in Cairo.

Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce yesterday, with each side settling for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm.

Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas's long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.

Hamas is seeking an end to the Israeli blockade, including the reopening of Gaza's sea and airport. It also wants Egypt to reopen its Rafah border crossing, the territory's main gateway to the outside world. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza's 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

Israel, meanwhile, wants Hamas to be disarmed.

Palestinians release fireworks as they celebrate what they said was a victory by Palestinians in Gaza over Israel following a ceasefire, in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Palestinians release fireworks as they celebrate what they said was a victory by Palestinians in Gaza over Israel following a ceasefire, in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Palestinians ride in a vehicle loaded with their belongings as they return to their houses, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinians ride in a vehicle loaded with their belongings as they return to their houses, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinians waving Hamas flags celebrate with others what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinians waving Hamas flags celebrate with others what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City

"Hamas was hit hard and it received not one of the demands it set forth for a ceasefire, not one," Mr Netanyahu said. He said Israel "will not tolerate" any more rocket fire, and would respond "even harder" if the attacks resume.

Addressing the future of Gaza, the Israeli premier that should Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "choose peace" he would be happy for the Palestinian leader to regain control of the coastal enclave, which the Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled since it routed Mr Abbas's forces in 2007. Mr Netanyahu indicated that as long as Hamas was in power, reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict with the Palestinians was impossible.

Critics have said that Mr Netanyahu did not go far enough to topple Hamas and that the war, meant to end incessant rocket fire on communities in Israel's south, changed little on the ground at the cost of 70 people killed on the Israeli side, all but six soldiers. The war marked the third round of fighting since Hamas seized power in Gaza.

REFILE - CORRECTING YEAR
A grandfather of three Palestinian children who medics said were killed in an Israeli air strike, cries outside a hospital morgue in Gaza City August 21, 2014. An Israeli air strike killed three senior Hamas military commanders in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the Islamist group said, the clearest sign yet Israel is focusing its assault on those leading attacks from the Palestinian enclave. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on what would constitute the killing of the most senior Hamas men since it launched its offensive on Gaza six week ago with the declared aim of curbing rocket fire into its territory. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY CONFLICT)
A grandfather of three Palestinian children who medics said were killed in an Israeli air strike, cries outside a hospital morgue in Gaza City August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
A Palestinian reacts during the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders, who were killed in an Israeli air strike, at a mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. Israel killed three senior Hamas commanders in an air strike on the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the clearest signal yet that Israel is intent on eliminating the group's military leadership after a failed attempt on the life of its top commander this week. Hamas, which dominates Gaza, named the men as Mohammed Abu Shammala, Raed al-Attar and Mohammed Barhoum and said they were killed in the bombing of a house in the southern town of Rafah. All three were described as senior Hamas military figures. 
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A Palestinian reacts during the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders, who were killed in an Israeli air strike, at a mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH
A Palestinian boy mourns as others gather around the body of an Islamic Jihad militant from the Abu Nada family, whom medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Beit Lahiya town in the northern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. Israel killed three senior Hamas commanders in an air strike on the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the clearest signal yet that Israel is intent on eliminating the group's military leadership after a failed attempt on the life of its top commander this week. As well as the Hamas commanders killed, Palestinian medics reported 19 other deaths on Thursday, including three children. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT) TEMPLATE OUT
A Palestinian boy mourns as others gather around the body of an Islamic Jihad militant from the Abu Nada family, whom medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Beit Lahiya town in the northern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

"Both sides did not exactly want this campaign, both sides made all possible errors dragging them into it, and both sides find themselves today returning to square one, where they were at the start of the warfare," wrote Alex Fishman in the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper.

Much of the criticism has come from residents of southern Israeli communities, thousands of whom fled their homes to seek safer areas during the war. They complain they have lived under rocket barrages for more than a decade without any change.

A Palestinian family looks through their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and began a 72-hour truce with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
A Palestinian family looks through their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
A Palestinian family rides a donkey cart past damaged homes after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and began a 72-hour truce with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT ANIMALS)
A Palestinian family rides a donkey cart past damaged homes after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
An Israeli soldier gestures from atop a tank after crossing the border back into Israel August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST MILITARY)
An Israeli soldier gestures from atop a tank after crossing the border back into Israel August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Many said they were reluctant to return to their homes, fearing that the ceasefire did not secure an end to rocket and mortar fire on their communities.

"There is a lot of concern and a lot of uncertainty and we want quiet already, but a real quiet, not something bogus and not a ceasefire that lasts just a few days," Liraz Levy, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim near Gaza, told Israeli television broadcaster Channel 10.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mr Netanyahu's main coalition partner, said that violence would continue if Hamas was not toppled and that the ceasefire would allow Hamas to "grow stronger".

Hamas also declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless, according to Palestinian health officials and United Nations figures.

In Gaza, masked militants gathered on the rubble of destroyed homes in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood, site of some of the heaviest fighting, to declare victory. The men displayed heavy machine guns, mortar shells, rockets and anti-tank missiles. Hundreds of residents gathered around the militants, taking pictures with them and their weapons.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, stood over an Israeli flag as he addressed the crowd.

"Gaza achieved victory because it has done what major armies failed to do. It forced the enemy to retreat," he said. "We must know that no voice is louder than the voice of the resistance."

Life slowly returned to normal in Gaza today, as traffic policemen took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. Harried utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure damaged by weeks of Israeli airstrikes.

"We are going back today," said farmer Radwan al-Sultan, 42, as he and some of his seven children used an overloaded three-wheeled tuk-tuk to return to their home in the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. "Finally we will enjoy our home sweet home again."

The United Nations' said the number of displaced people had decreased significantly. UNRWA, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, said about 53,000 people are still living in shelters, down from almost 290,000 on Tuesday.

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