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Gazans celebrate “victory” over Israel

Gaza: Gazans savoured the calm that pervaded their coastal enclave on Thursday after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire halted eight days of relentless Israeli bombardment that killed 162 people.

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.

But joy mingled with grief as many Palestinians walked by wrecked houses and government buildings, glimpsing shredded clothing, ruined furniture and cars half-buried in the rubble.

Fighting ended late on Wednesday after the Hamas movement and Israel accepted a truce, although doubt abounded on both sides that this would be anything more than a pause in a deadly struggle between deeply distrustful adversaries.

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.

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