Palestinians rallied by the thousands on Friday (local time) after a ceasefire took effect in the latest Gaza war, with many viewing it as a costly but clear victory for the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israel vowed to respond with a "new level of force" to further hostilities.
The 11-day war left more than 250 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished Gaza Strip.
But the rocket barrages that brought life to a standstill in much of Israel were seen by many Palestinians as a bold response to perceived Israeli abuses in Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict.
Like the three previous wars, the latest round of fighting ended inconclusively.
Israel claimed it inflicted heavy damage on Hamas but once again was unable to halt the rockets.
Even as it claims victory, Hamas faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding in a territory already suffering from high unemployment and a coronavirus outbreak, and from years of blockade by Egypt and Israel.
The conflict brought to the surface deep frustration among Palestinians, whether in the occupied West Bank, Gaza or within Israel, over the status quo, with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process all but abandoned for years.
The continued volatility was on display when clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police after Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem sacred to Jews and Muslims. Clashes there earlier this month were one of the main triggers for the war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fended off criticism from his hawkish base who said he ended the offensive prematurely without a more decisive blow to Hamas.
Israel had done "daring and new things, and this without being dragged into unnecessary adventures", he said. Its forces caused "maximum damage to Hamas with a minimum of casualties in Israel", he added.
Netanyahu warned against further attacks, saying: "If Hamas thinks we will tolerate a drizzle of rockets, it is wrong." He vowed to respond with "a new level of force" against aggression anywhere in Israel.
He said Israeli strikes killed more than 200 militants, including 25 senior commanders, and hit more than 100km of militant tunnels. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have only acknowledged 20 fighters killed.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised speech from the Qatari capital of Doha that the war "opened the door to new phases that will witness many victories". He called it a "quantum leap" that would build support among Palestinians for "resistance" rather than failed negotiations.
The Gaza Health Ministry says at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and 1910 people were wounded. It does not differentiate between fighters and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl.
Celebrations erupted in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem at 2am when the ceasefire took hold.
In Gaza City, thousands took to the streets, and young men waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, passed out sweets, honked horns and set off fireworks.
Shoppers stocked up on fresh fruit and vegetables at a Gaza City open-air market that reopened after being closed during the fighting. Workers swept up rubble.
"Life will return, because this is not the first war, and it will not be the last war," shop owner Ashraf Abu Mohammad said. "The heart is in pain, there have been disasters, families wiped from the civil registry, and this saddens us. But this is our fate in this land, to remain patient."
Residents in the hard-hit town of Beit Hanoun surveyed wrecked homes.
"We see such huge destruction here, it's the first time in history we've seen this," Azhar Nsair said. "The ceasefire is for people who didn't suffer, who didn't lose their loved ones, whose homes were not bombed."
After the ceasefire, the UN sent 13 trucks with food, Covid-19 vaccines, medical supplies and medicines into Gaza. The world body also allocated US$18.6 million in emergency humanitarian aid.
The fighting began on May 10, when Hamas militants in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. The barrage came after days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa. Heavy-handed police tactics at the compound and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers had inflamed tensions.
Competing claims to Jerusalem have repeatedly triggered bouts of violence. Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war and the Palestinians want them for their future state. The international community considers East Jerusalem and all of the Palestinian territories to be illegally occupied by Israel.
In a statement to the UN, New Zealand said that, despite the ceasefire, "prospects for a genuine peace are bleak – worse than at any time in recent memory" and reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution as "the only basis to achieve sustainable peace".
"Without tangible progress towards a two-state solution, the violence we are witnessing will simply reoccur. More lives will be lost, more seeds of discord sown, and a region already beset by instability and conflict will become ever more complex, volatile and fractured," the statement read.
Earlier this week, a Green Party bid for Parliament to debate recognising Palestine as a state was blocked, a move the party says raises questions about New Zealand's supposed support for a two-state solution.
The United States, Israel's closest and most important ally, initially backed what it called Israel's right to self-defence against indiscriminate rocket fire. But as fighting dragged on and deaths mounted, the Americans increasingly pressured Israel to stop the offensive, and Egypt brokered the ceasefire.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to visit the region "to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians," the State Department said. He spoke on Friday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who asked that Washington follow up on stopping Israeli measures in Jerusalem, like raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned evictions of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, Abbas' office said.
President Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire. He said the US was committed to helping Israel replenish its supply of interceptor missiles and to working with the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority — not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The Palestinian militants claimed Netanyahu had agreed to halt further Israeli actions at Al-Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. An Egyptian official said only that tensions in Jerusalem "will be addressed".
Netanyahu faced heavy criticism from members of his hawkish, nationalist base. Gideon Saar, a former ally who leads a small party, called the ceasefire "embarrassing".
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Power party, told Israeli TV's Channel 13 that, with the ceasefire, the government "spat in the face of residents of southern Israel," and said it should topple Hamas and reoccupy Gaza.