Last updated: 21 November, 2012

Gaza celebrates as ceasefire with Israel takes effect

In the minutes before a truce deal between Israel and Hamas took effect, Gaza’s streets were empty and dark, as they had been almost continuously since an eight-day conflict erupted.

But moments after the 1900 GMT deadline for the ceasefire to begin had passed, the celebrations began.

Gunfire and fireworks streaked into the dark night sky, where Israeli drones could still be heard buzzing overhead, as mosques broadcast the chants: “God is greatest” and “The resistance is victorious.”

Jubilant residents flooded into the streets, some waving the green flags of the Hamas movement and others the Egyptian flag, in tribute to the role Egypt played in negotiating the truce, which was announced in Cairo.

Since the violence began on November 14, when Israel killed a senior Hamas field commander, many Gazans have barely left their homes, terrified that death awaited them in the streets of their cities.

So Wednesday’s truce was also a chance for parents and children to reclaim their lives, moving freely without casting nervous glances overhead.

“I’m very happy about the end of the war, and the truce. I haven’t left the house since the beginning of the escalation, I feel free now,” 26-year-old Mai Abu Watfa told AFP.

“We were in prison. I’m overjoyed at the end of the bombing and the war,” Nasim Hamduna said, walking with his child.

“I left my house during the violence and here I am today going back to it,” he said gleefully.

In parts of Gaza, the tone was distinctly triumphal, with members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, given a hero’s welcome at some gatherings.

In a statement, the Brigades lauded their performance during the conflict.

“For the first time we used homemade long-range missiles that reached up to 80km,” they said.

“For the first time in the conflict they reached… Tel Aviv and occupied Jerusalem and forced the occupation to raise a white flag.”

One of the group’s militants, who gave his name Abu Abdullah, grinned as he fired into the air.

“A little while ago we were firing our weapons and rockets at the occupation and the occupied cities from underground, and now are firing in happiness,” he said.

“Israel is an occupying country and will leave our land,” he added, saying he was confident that the truce would hold.

“Israel cannot violate the truce because any violation will be answered immediately,” he said.

In a statement, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said he was “satisfied with the agreement and proud of our people and its resistance,” adding that he “thanked Egypt for its role.”

In the minutes leading up the beginning of the ceasefire, heavy outgoing and incoming fire could be heard, but it appeared to have largely stopped after the deadline took effect.

“Celebrations until morning!” one Gaza City mosque broadcast over its loudspeakers, as sweets and chocolate were distributed to the many children taking part in the festivities.

But as midnight approached, the gunfire slowed, and it seemed many of the city’s residents were more inclined to take advantage of the quiet to indulge in something denied them this last week: a good night’s sleep.