Friday 26 December 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

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. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinians and masked militants of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, celebrate 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)
Israeli soldier secure the area were a mortar fired from the Quneitra province after Syrian rebels clashed with President Bashar Assads forces hit in a community in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A Palestinian masked Hamas gunmen holds his rifle as he guards during a rally in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians with their belongings drive back to their homes in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian stands in front of the rubble of a five-storey building of the Sheikh Zaid housing project following an Israeli strike, thirteen minutes before the announcment of the cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis, in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian firefighters inspect the rubble of a five-storey building of the Sheikh Zaid housing project following an Israeli strike, thirteen minutes before the announcement of the cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis, in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 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.

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.

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
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Members of a Palestinian family ride a motorcycle past destroyed houses as they return to their house in the east of Khan Younis, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, following a ceasefire in the southern Gaza Strip
Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar (C), appearing for the first time since the start of a seven-week conflict, hugs senior Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi, during a rally by Palestinians celebrating what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
A Palestinian celebrates with others what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinians chant slogans as they gather to celebrate the cease-fire in Gaza City
Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory by Palestinians in Gaza over Israel following a ceasefire, in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum (C) is carried by Palestinians as they celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinians celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
Palestinian children hold guns as they celebrate with others what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
A Palestinian carries a mock rocket as he celebrates with others what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza City
A masked militant flashes the victory sign surrounded by Palestinians celebrate the cease-fire in Gaza City
Palestinian Hamas militants hold their weapons as they celebrate with people 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

Israel, meanwhile, wants Hamas to be disarmed.

"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.

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. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Smoke is seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot
Smoke is seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot
An Israeli soldier jumps off an armored personnel carrier (APC) parked next to a tank near the border with the Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A streak of light is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel August 21, 2014. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
A streak of light is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel August 21, 2014. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
A streak of light is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel August 21, 2014. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
Tens of thousands of Palestinians march during the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders, who were killed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Abed Sha'at
A Palestinian medic carries a wounded baby, following an Israeli airstrike on a building, at the treatment room of al Najar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
A Palestinian relative of Mohammed Abu Shammala, one of three senior Hamas commanders who were killed in an Israeli air strike, mourns during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinian doctor treats an injured child, following an Israeli airstrike on a building, at the treatment room of al Najar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
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

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.

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. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A general view of destroyed buildings in 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
The ruins of destroyed houses are seen in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian woman reacts after retuning to her badly damaged house in 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/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians search for their belongings amongst the ruins of their destroyed house after returning to it in the Shejaia neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians look at destroyed houses after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian woman searches for her belongings amongst the rubble of her destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to it in the Shejaia neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (C) leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
The ruins of destroyed houses are seen in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (C) leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
An Israeli soldier from the Nahal Brigade carries a weapon after returning to Israel from Gaza 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
A Palestinian woman leads a girl past destroyed buildings 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
Palestinians inspect a damaged building after it was hit by mistake by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel by Palestinian militants, in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem August 5, 2014. IREUTERS/Ammar Awad
A Palestinian man gestures in front of a damaged building after it was hit by mistake by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel by Palestinian militants, in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An Israeli soldier from the Nahal Brigade carries a weapon after returning to Israel from Gaza 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
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

"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.

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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