By Robin Gomes
Leaders from around the world have applauded the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, with the United Nations calling for concrete actions to address the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to achieve true peace and reconciliation in the region.
As the ceasefire came into effect early on Friday, people in Gaza took to the streets in cars and on foot to celebrate. While some shouted or whistled from balconies, others fired into the air, and some drivers honked their horns. Israel's military said it was removing nearly all emergency restrictions on movement throughout the country.
Loss of life and property
The heavy bombing by Israel during the 11-day war cost the lives of at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children. Israel lost 12 people, including two children.
Gaza’s infrastructure, already weakened by a 14-year blockade, has rapidly deteriorated with the latest fighting. Medical supplies, water and fuel for electricity are running low in the territory, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power in 2007.
World leaders urge lasting peace
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres stressed that “Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict”. He added, “Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division.”
United States president Joe Biden hailed the cease-fire as a “genuine opportunity” toward the larger goal of building a lasting peace in the Middle East. While stressing that Palestinians and Israelis deserve to “live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy”, he pledged his commitment to work with the UN and other international stakeholders for rapid humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in Gaza.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who brokered the truce, said Biden and he “exchanged visions around reaching a formula that would calm the current conflict between Israel and Gaza” through diplomacy.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed the peace deal, urging both sides “to consolidate it and stabilize the situation in the long term”. “Only a political solution will bring lasting peace and security to all,” she said. Charles Michel, European Council president also welcomed the ceasefire, stressing that the “opportunity for peace and security for citizens must be seized”.
Dominic Raab, United Kingdom foreign secretary said, “All sides must work to make the ceasefire durable and end the unacceptable cycle of violence and loss of civilian life.” “UK continues to support efforts to bring about peace,” he added.
The fighting between Israel and Hamas erupted May 10, after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem that culminated in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Hamas began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory airstrikes.
According to the Israeli military, Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza fired more than 4,300 rockets from civilian sites into Israel, some reaching as far north as Tel Aviv, the country's commercial capital. Israel said it struck more than 1,000 militant targets in Gaza. Both sides are claiming victory.
Jerusalem and Palestine statehood
Claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the long-drawn tension between Israelis and Palestinians and have repeatedly triggered sporadic violence in the past. While Israel holds of Jerusalem to be its “eternal unified” capital, the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel had captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians want those territories for their future state, with east Jerusalem serving as their eventual capital. But Israel annexed the eastern part of the city in a move not recognized internationally. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Holy See’s stand
In this regard, the Holy See and the past popes, including Pope Francis, have been advocating efforts for peace between Israel and Palestine. It calls for preserving the “Status quo” of the Holy City of Jerusalem as the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Holy See has also been supporting peace efforts in the Holy Land advocating a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem, with both sides avoiding unilateral actions.
Receiving 9 new ambassadors to the Holy See on Friday, Pope Francis prayed that “Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness”. He urged that they be “patient builders of peace and justice, and be open, step by step, to a common hope, to coexistence among brothers and sisters”.
The Holy Father has also invited Catholics and bishops from around the world to join in prayer for peace in the Holy Land, as part of a Pentecost Vigil celebrated by Catholic bishops at St. Stephen’s Church in Jerusalem.