World leaders hail Egypt-brokered Gaza ceasefire

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks before a ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas was to go into effect, during a brief appearance in the Cross Hall at the White House in Washington, US, May 20, 2021.

World leaders and top diplomats welcomed an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that came into force on Friday, but underscored the need for a long-term political solution to put a real end to the Middle East conflict.

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“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I’m committed to working towards it,” Biden said at the White House, highlighting Egypt’s role in brokering the truce that came into force early Friday morning after 11 days of fighting which has claimed almost 250 lives, mainly on the Gaza strip.

Biden, who has come under criticism from many within his own Democratic party for not pushing US ally Israel more publicly to call a ceasefire, touted his administration’s “quiet, relentless diplomacy”.

Echoing a line taken by the White House throughout, Biden indicated that the US goal, involving “incredible efforts”, was above all to avoid “the sort of prolonged conflict we’ve seen in previous years”, he said.

“Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”

‘Important, but insufficient’ step

The United Nations also welcomed the truce, but added a warning.

“I stress 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,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “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.”

The European Union commended the end to the violence, but insisted that “only a political solution will bring sustainable peace and end once for all the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

Britain underscored the importance of ensuring the truce remains durable, with France also highlighting “the need for a relaunch of a genuine political process between the parties”.

Russia, meanwhile, said that although the truce was an important step towards reconciliation, it is “still insufficient”.

“In order to avoid a resumption of violence, we must double international and regional efforts on relaunching direct political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

China said the international community now needed to “extend helping hands” to the region and that it would commit $1 million in emergency aid and a further $1 million to UN relief efforts for the Palestinians.

“The international community should promote the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestine issue on the basis of the two-state solution,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

Israel, Hamas claim victory

Both Israel and Hamas, meanwhile, claimed significant gains from the fighting.

“This is the euphoria of victory,” said Khalil al-Hayya, the second most senior member of Hamas’s political bureau in the Gaza Strip, in a speech to thousands of people celebrating in Gaza City after the ceasefire came into place. He also promised to reconstruct homes destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

Al-Hayya claims Israel failed to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure, and says the group’s fighters are still “striding proudly” in the underground tunnels.

He did not reveal the terms of the deal.

Separately, another senior Hamas member warned that the group remained ready to take up arms at a moment’s notice.

“It is true the battle ends today but Netanyahu and the whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance,” said Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, in an interview with Reuters.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that the Gaza offensive had yielded “unprecedented military gains”.

Speaking to his US counterpart Lloyd Austin, Gantz said Israel’s defence establishment would “continue to work closely and in full cooperation with the Pentagon and the US administration to stabilise the region”, Gantz’s office said.

Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza said 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Israel said it had killed at least 160 combatants in Gaza.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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