Life in Gaza began returning to 'normal' on Thursday with a public holiday to mark a ceasefire and 'victory' that ended a violent eight-day confrontation with the Israeli military.
Thousands of Gazans took to the streets Wednesday night in joyous celebration after an Egyptian-led ceasefire halted eight days of relentless Israeli bombardment that killed at least 162 people.
The deal forged in Cairo under Egyptian and U.S. pressure calls for easing the six-year-old Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Agence France Presse reports:
Late on Wednesday, the ruling Hamas government announced that Thursday would be a public holiday.
“The Palestinian government announces that Thursday 22nd November is a national holiday of victory and an official holiday,” it said in a statement.
It “invites all citizens to celebrate this occasion and visit the families of the martyrs and the wounded and those affected by the violence and to affirm national solidarity”.
Despite the death and destruction, many were buoyant, echoing assertions of the Gaza Strip's Islamist Hamas rulers that their rocket salvoes, which reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time, had trumped Israel's military might.
"Congratulations on your victory," passersby said as they shook hands with Hamas traffic policemen back on the streets after days in hiding to avoid Israeli bombs and missiles.
Jubilant crowds celebrated in Gaza, most waving green Hamas flags, but hundreds with the yellow emblems of the rival Fatah group led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Today our unity materialized, Hamas and Fatah are one hand, one rifle and one rocket," senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya told several thousand people in the main square of Gaza.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah figure, even shared the stage with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions.
The striking images of reconciliation broke a prevailing pattern of bitterness since Hamas gunmen drove Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007, politically reinforcing the territory's physical separation from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Abbas was sidelined in the Gaza crisis, taking no part in the indirect negotiations in Cairo that produced the truce.
But he called Hamas's Gaza chief and prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, to "congratulate him on the victory and extend condolences to the families of martyrs", Haniyeh's office said. [...]
"This is a victory for Gaza," said Sami Shbair, as he sold vegetables to residents flooding out of their homes to shop without the constant fear of explosions and flying shrapnel.
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