GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Masked Hamas members brandishing assault rifles paraded in Gaza City and the terror group’s top leader in the Strip made his first public appearance on Saturday, in a defiant show after an 11-day war with Israel.
The show of force came as Egyptian mediators held talks to firm up the truce which ended the fourth Israel-Hamas war in just over a decade. In the fighting, Israel unleashed hundreds of airstrikes against targets in Gaza, while Hamas and other terror groups fired more than 4,300 rockets toward Israel. More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians. Israel asserts some 200 were terror operatives.
Both Israel and Hamas have claimed victory.
On Saturday, dozens of Hamas members wearing military camouflage paraded past the mourning tent for Bassem Issa, a senior commander killed in the fighting. The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, paid his respects in his first public appearance since the war began.
Israel bombed the house of Sinwar, along with that of other senior Hamas figures, as part of its attack on what it said was the group’s military infrastructure. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said top Hamas figures remain targets.
A senior Hamas member told Kan public broadcaster Saturday that if Israel were to strike either Sinwar or the terror group’s military wing commander Muhammad Deif, they would open a new round of fighting.
Still, there was a widespread expectation that the ceasefire would stick for now, though another round of fighting at some point seems inevitable. Underlying issues remain unresolved, including the Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, now in its 14th year, that is choking Gaza’s more than 2 million residents and a refusal by the Hamas terror group to disarm (Israel says the blockade is necessary to limit access to weapons by Hamas, which is sworn to its destruction).
The fighting began May 10, when Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem. Palestinian terror groups have tied rocket fire from Gaza to unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The Israeli bombardment struck a blow to the already decrepit infrastructure in the small coastal territory. It flattened high-rises and houses, tore up roads, and wrecked water systems. At least 30 health facilities were damaged, forcing a halt to coronavirus testing in the territory. The military maintains that the targets it struck all housed assets of Hamas or other terror groups.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 minors, with 1,910 people wounded. It does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.
Israel has accused Hamas and the smaller terror groups of hiding the actual number of members killed in the war. Prime Minister Netanyahu said Friday that more than 200 terror group operatives were killed, including 25 senior commanders.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad on Saturday gave the first account of deaths within its ranks, saying that 19 of its commanders and operatives were killed, including the head of the rocket unit in northern Gaza.