The ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza was holding Saturday, as humanitarian aid began to enter the enclave after 11 days of conflict.
As thousands of displaced Palestinians returned to their homes, and Israelis also began to resume normal life, international focus turned to the reconstruction of the bomb-shattered Gaza Strip.
Convoys of lorries carrying aid began passing into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing after it was reopened by Israel, bringing much-needed medicine, food and fuel.
Israel temporarily reopened both the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza at the height of the violence, allowing many truckloads of desperately needed fuel, medical equipment and animal feed into the enclave, according to Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.
While the crossings were opened, terrorists in the Strip launched a large mortar barrage across the border, firing dozens of shells throughout the area, including at Kerem Shalom and Erez.
A soldier was lightly wounded Tuesday in a mortar attack while assisting in the transfer of humanitarian aid shipments into Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing, and Israel decided to again shut the crossings.
However, with the reopening of the crossings, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund said it had released $18.5 million for humanitarian efforts, while nations also pledged aid.
In Jerusalem, however, Israeli police cracked down on stone-throwing protesters at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday, in a sign of how volatile the situation remains, two weeks after similar clashes played a major role in the start of the conflict’s worst escalation in years.
Israeli forces beat an AFP photographer who was covering the unrest there.
Clashes also broke out in several other parts of East Jerusalem, and at the crossing point between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israeli police said, adding that hundreds of officers and border guards had been mobilized.
US President Joe Biden said he had told the Israelis to stop “intercommunal fighting” in Jerusalem, and pledged to help organize efforts to rebuild Gaza.
He also stressed “we still need a two-state solution. It is the only answer, the only answer.”
Clearing the rubble
Tens of thousands of Gaza residents ventured out on Friday for the first time in days, checking on neighbors, examining devastated buildings, visiting the sea and burying their dead.
Rescuers there said they were working with meagre resources to reach any survivors still trapped under the rubble.
In total, Israeli air strikes killed 248 people including 66 children and teens since May 10, and wounded 1,948 others, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel killed over 200 terrorists in Gaza, including 25 senior officials. The IDF also says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in the Strip.
Large areas have been flattened and some 120,000 people have been displaced, according to Hamas.
The Israeli army said Gaza terrorists fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, of which 90 percent were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system.
The rockets killed 12 in Israel, including one child, a teenager and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, Israeli authorities say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.
“Our message to the enemy is clear — if you come back, we’ll come back too,” a spokesperson for the terror groups in Gaza said at a press conference, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that “the enemy” had no immunity.
Both sides claim victory
Both sides claimed victory after the Egypt-brokered truce, which also included Gaza’s second most powerful terror group, Islamic Jihad.
Netanyahu said Israel’s bombing campaign was an “exceptional success” that “changed the equation.”
For its part, Hamas’ political chief Ismail Haniyeh said they had “dealt a painful and severe blow that will leave its deep marks” on Israel.
He also thanked Iran for “providing funds and weapons.”
Iran itself praised a “historic victory” and reaffirmed Tehran’s support for the Palestinian cause, while there were demonstrations in support of Palestinians around the world.
Egyptian state media said two Egyptian security delegations had arrived to monitor the deal from either side.
World leaders welcomed the truce.
“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working toward it,” Biden said.
The European Union echoed his call for a two-state solution to the conflict.
The US State Department said top diplomat Antony Blinken would “meet with Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Russia and China called for a return to peace talks, and UN chief Antonio Guterres said Israel and the Palestinians must now have “a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”
He too called for “robust” reconstruction aid.
Frictions in Jerusalem — with Israeli security forces entering the Temple Mount compound and clashing with Palestinian rioters — were a major factor in the tensions that preceded Hamas’s rocket fire at Jerusalem on May 10, at the start of the 11-day conflict
Israel’s military responded with air strikes on what it described as military targets in Gaza — though Palestinian and international groups have accused it of recklessly hitting non-military sites in the densely populated strip.
Israel says it makes efforts to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes. It blames Hamas for placing military sites in densely populated areas.
The unrest also fueled violence between Jews and Israeli Arabs in mixed cities such as Lod, Ramle and Jaffa.
Security forces have clashed with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. At least 25 Palestinians have been killed. Israel said at least five had attempted to attack its forces.
And Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Friday afternoon, mere hours after the ceasefire went into effect.
It was not immediately clear how the confrontation had erupted. According to Israeli police, officers acted to contain a riot by Palestinian worshippers at the scene.
The clashes marked the first test of the ceasefire.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, as the site of both biblical temples. It is holy to Muslims as the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered at the flashpoint site for Friday prayers just after noon. After finishing, thousands chanted slogans and hoisted Palestinian flags.
In videos from the courtyard surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque several minutes later, police can be seen firing stun grenades at Palestinians as they attempt to clear the square. More than a dozen Palestinians were detained on the scene.
In another video from the scene, an Israeli cop is attacked by a Palestinian man who knocks him violently to the ground as Palestinians around him cheer. A suspect was arrested in connection with the attack on Friday night.
بالقـ.ـنابل الصوتية.. لحظة استهداف قوات الاحتلال للفلسطينيين في باحات المسجد الأقصى pic.twitter.com/PELTrIgMgX
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) May 21, 2021
Some Palestinian reports claimed the unrest was sparked when Israeli police sought to confiscate the Palestinian flags being waved by worshippers.
Twenty Palestinians were injured and two were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.
Palestinian terror groups have tied rocket fire from Gaza — which ceased early on Friday morning as the ceasefire took effect — to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.