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Israel-Gaza cease-fire holds, but it's a fragile peace as both sides dubiously claim success

Cease-fire in Israel-Hamas conflict
Israel, Hamas agree to cease-fire in Gaza conflict after 11 days of deadly violence 02:15

Jerusalem — A cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas was holding on Friday morning after taking effect overnight. The truce brought a much-needed reprieve after 11 days of devastating airstrikes on the Gaza Strip by Israel's military, and the reciprocal, ceaseless barrage of rocket fire unleashed by Hamas and its allies.

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was still keeping the peace Friday afternoon in the Middle East, almost 12 hours after it took effect. But CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab said it was a tense peace as the two sides both claimed to have achieved their objectives during the violence — and both warned that they were poised to go back on the attack if they felt betrayed.

On the streets of Gaza and other Palestinian enclaves, there was jubilation as Hamas and its supporters claimed victory. But after more than 240 Palestinians were killed and parts of the tiny Gaza Strip were reduced to piles of twisted steel and crumbled concrete, the victory was a hollow one.

Israel and Hamas cease fire across the Gaza Strip
Palestinians celebrate in the streets following a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

After several days waiting for Israel to open the Gaza border, CBS News correspondent Holly Williams was among the first foreign journalists permitted into the tiny, densely-populated strip of land on Friday to document the devastation from Israel's airstrikes. 

She said it was remarkable, given the scale of Israel's blistering aerial assault and the fact that more than 4,000 Hamas rockets had been fired from Gaza during the clash, to hear the sounds of normal life resuming.

Some leveled buildings in Gaza were still smoldering Friday, CBS News' Haley Ott reports. Some people who lost their homes in the conflict are now living out of tents, and others walked down the street crying over killed family members or friends.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions remain high following cease-fire 05:29

Overnight in east Jerusalem, one of the places where the 11 days of violence kicked off, fireworks lit up the night sky.

But on Friday, new clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police highlighted the fact that long-festering issues still hadn't been resolved. As Williams explained from inside Gaza, two groups of people still fervently believe that the same piece of land is their country, but one group is much more powerful militarily, and only that group currently has a country to call its own.

Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz lauded his nation's bombing campaign, claiming it had made "achievements unprecedented in their scale, precision and strategic significance for the struggle with terrorist organizations in Gaza."

The exact terms of the cease-fire haven't been made public, but Hamas claimed it had received assurances that Israeli security forces would not enter the revered al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem again, and that the looming eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem by Israeli settlers wouldn't happen.

Gantz called the claims "completely false," and he warned that Israel's military remained "prepared to protect Israeli civilians, and our security forces and the IDF are on the ground, across the different fronts, positioned for offense and defense. The reality on the ground will determine how we move forward."

Embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed "exceptional success," and said Israel's military had "exacted a heavy price from Hamas. But with 12 Israelis killed by the militant group's rockets and Hamas still undeniably standing, his claims, too, were difficult to quantify.

President Biden calls cease-fire a "genuine opportunity" for building lasting peace 06:47

Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, warned as it agreed to the cease-fire deal in the early hours of Friday morning that still had the capacity to "fire rockets on Israel, from north to south."

Netanyahu said any further rocket launches from Gaza would be met with "a new level of force."

As the Israeli and Hamas threats hung over the truce, one Israeli political analyst questioned any claims of victory.

"I don't see anyone here who is winning those conflicts. It is a repeating [of] the same conflict after conflict," Tal Schneider told CBS News. "I think all sides are losing."

World leaders hailed the cease-fire, but the last major conflict between Israel and Gaza, in 2014, saw nine truce agreements crumble under renewed violence before the fighting eventually ended.

The concern on Friday was that this peace deal could prove just as fragile, and new clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police outside the al-Aqsa mosque drove home the point. 

More than a dozen people were reportedly injured before calm was restored at that site, but there were Palestinian protests taking shape at other frequent flash-point locations in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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