Middle East ceasefire kicks in – citizens breathing space | Free press

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Tel Aviv / Gaza (dpa) – In the recent escalation of the conflict between Israel and militant Palestinians, weapons have been silent since early Friday morning.

After 11 days of fighting, an Egypt-brokered ceasefire went into effect at 2 a.m. local time (1 a.m. CEST). For the first few hours, both sides stuck to the agreed cessation of fighting.

The European Union (EU) offered all its support in the search for a lasting peace solution on Friday. “Restoring a political horizon for a two-state solution remains paramount,” said Josep Borrell, EU foreign affairs representative. The EU also wants to expand its commitment to the revitalized Middle East Quartet. This consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the United Nations (UN). According to Israel, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to travel to the region soon.

However, the Israeli army has lifted security regulations for the population in the south of the country. The people in the area bordering the Gaza Strip were particularly hard hit by rocket fire from Islamic Hamas and its allies. On Thursdays alone, they spent most of the day in air raid shelters. In principle, they had to stay near the protected facilities for over eleven days on the instructions of the army.

The ceasefire had been approved the night before by the Israeli cabinet and Hamas leaders in Gaza. However, both sides warned that it would lapse if the other party failed to abide by the underlying agreement. “The decision to resume rocket fire on Israel remains an option,” a spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed arm, said on the Islamic television channel Al-Aksa.

In the Gaza Strip, thousands of people poured into the streets immediately after the ceasefire came into effect. In the midst of ruins, they gave their relief at the end of the horror. They lit fireworks, fired shots into the air and shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is great!).

The consequences of the violence of the past 11 days have been devastating. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 232 Palestinians were murdered on Thursday, including 65 children and adolescents. 1,900 people were injured. 1,800 apartments and houses were destroyed in Israeli air raids, including five tall buildings. Hospitals were badly damaged and roads destroyed.

Twelve people died in Israel and more than 300 were injured. According to Israeli information, the militant Palestinians fired a total of 4,340 missiles on the land. According to this information, about 90 percent of the projectiles were intercepted by the Israeli iron-domed defense system. For the first time, rockets reached the coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic center, in large numbers. The conflict escalated on May 10 with Hamas rocket fire on Jerusalem. Israel responded with massive attacks in the Gaza Strip.

Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas visited the region in the hours before the ceasefire was declared. In doing so, he was again clearly on the side of the Jewish state. “For us, the security of Israel, as well as the security of all Jews in Germany, is non-negotiable,” he stressed. Maas received sympathy and benevolence from his Israeli hosts. His colleague Gabi Aschkenasi said: “I thank him for visiting us right now, at a time when missiles are falling.”

However, the German politician’s visit was more of a complement to the behind-the-scenes effort to bring about the ceasefire. The contribution of the United States, Israel’s main ally, was decisive. US President Joe Biden recently increased pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted to decisively weaken Hamas’s military capabilities. In view of the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population, Biden had already called for a “significant de-escalation” on Wednesday.

It is clear to US politicians that the ceasefire alone will not defuse the explosive situation in the Middle East. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is therefore expected to hold talks in the region shortly. His Israeli counterpart, Ashkenazi, wrote on Twitter on Friday that Blinken had informed him of his plans to visit him. It is a continuation of “our discussions on how to advance regional strategic issues to ensure Israel’s security and regional stability.”