JERUSALEM—Hamas leaders on Tuesday declared the seven-week confrontation with Israel a "great victory for the Palestinian resistance" and a step toward the next round of fighting with the Jewish state, but many Gaza citizens are questioning the usefulness of Hamas' attacks.
One Gazan in the street who lost his home in the bombing asked a reporter—"why did they have to provoke Israel?"—the question suggests Hamas leadership may yet face sharp questioning after the dust settles. The public celebrations after the ceasefire went into effect are seen in Israel as an expression of relief that the bombing and shelling have finally stopped.
According to Israel, the pressure on Hamas and other militant groups in the last week of battle was so great that, in an unprecedented move, the local Hamas leadership in Gaza forced Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Qatar, to drop his opposition to the ceasefire proposed by Egypt even though it included none of the conditions Hamas had demanded.
A series of assassinations of top leaders by Israeli air strikes and the toppling of at least five multi-story towers in the heart of Gaza in recent days along with numerous other air strikes obliged the leadership, as an Islamic Jihad official put it, "to take into account the suffering of the people and accept a ceasefire."
However, the militancy voiced by Hamas leaders has not diminished.
"We will upgrade our (rocket) arsenal," said Mohammed Zahar, a senior official, "to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation." Zahar’s appearance before a crowd in Gaza’s central square was the first time he had been seen in public since the fighting started.
The ceasefire, which went into effect Tuesday night, is to be followed in a month by negotiations in Cairo in which Hamas will voice its demands, including Israeli agreement to a seaport and airport in Gaza. Israel will attempt to condition the rebuilding of Gaza with Hamas’ agreement to disarm. Hamas has threatened to resume the fighting if its demands are not met, but the mood of the Gaza population would seem to make this unlikely.
Some 2,100 persons in Gaza were killed in the fighting—Israel says half were combatants, Hamas says only a quarter—and 11,000 wounded. Some 100,000 are homeless following the destruction of thousands of apartments. Israel lost 70 people—all but six of them soldiers—and thousands of inhabitants abutting the Gaza border had to abandon their homes during the fighting because of incessant mortar fire.
Half the Israeli security cabinet reportedly favored a major ground incursion into Gaza in order to decisively defeat Hamas. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, refused to send troops into the heart of Gaza City, which is full of booby-trapped and mined alleys.
They made do with a limited incursion to destroy Hamas' attack tunnels. A major incursion, the army estimated, would have cost hundreds of soldiers’ lives. Netanyahu hopes to effectively neutralize Gaza through negotiations that would make disarmament a condition for the area’s reconstruction.