Palestinians in Gaza marked a national holiday on Thursday to celebrate what Hamas leaders said was a victory over Israel, after eight days of intense hostilities ended in a cease-fire on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Across Gaza, Palestinians celebrated, waving flags of Hamas, Fatah and smaller groups such as the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – as well as the Egyptian flag in a nod at the involvement of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in brokering an understanding between Israel and Hamas.

“People are celebrating. I was just having a walk around Gaza. Everyone is taking to the streets after been cooped up for days, waving flags out of cars, or helping with the clean-up,” says Rana Baker, a 21-yearold student of business administration at the Islamic University in Gaza. “The shops are reopening and people are out trying to stock up. I saw people are trying to extinguish fires – some of the buildings are still smoking from yesterday’s air strikes. They’re cleaning up the rubble.”

After spending almost more than a week inside, she says, Gazans were spilling into the streets with a celebratory, communal atmosphere.

“It’s actually very encouraging what we see on the streets. People are mopping up, and helping shopkeepers fix their stores, people are moving away cars so we can clean up the debris underneath them. People want to restore the calm and make Gaza beautiful again,” she adds.

Hamas has triumphantly declared victory in the week-long war, and many Gazans seem to agree.

Unlike the devastating war almost four years ago, the three-week-long Operation Cast Lead which ended in January 2009, few Gazans express frustration at Hamas, and said the operation seemed to unify Palestinians rather than divide them.

Most Palestinians, she notes, don’t see the conflict as having been touched off by the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari on November 14, but by the shooting by IDF forces on November 8 of Hamid Younis Abu Daqqa, a 13-yearold boy. The incident happened near one of the largest smuggling tunnels.

“Everybody blames Israel because Israel started the attack,” Baker said. “Basically everybody is really happy that the resistance was able to send a clear message to Israel, that if you want to use violence against us, you have to deal with the consequences.

They can’t expect the Palestinian people to fold its hands and watch this unfold. Killing a 13- year-old cannot be washed away.”

A celebratory march was planned for the afternoon in Gaza, and there would be further celebrations after Friday prayers, Palestinian sources said. Hamas officials declared victory over loudspeakers around the Gaza Strip, calling on people to come participate in various celebrations, and to go to visit the “families of martyrs” who died in the war.

Palestinians said they had no knowledge of any rockets being fired after the ceasefire started. Blogger Yousef Aljamal said that his area, the An-Nuseirat Refugee Camp, had not been too badly hit, but then at 8:30 on Wednesday night, just before the cease-fire went into effect, he saw an air strike hit a building 100 meters away from his home.

“The general feeling in the Gaza Strip today is that Gaza won the battle with Israel,” he says. “There is a feeling among people that we survived the latest escalation.

Israel decided that it had certain goals for this operation.

But the vast majority of people hurt were civilians, so Israel didn’t achieve its goals – and that means it’s a victory for the Palestinian people. Also, Palestinians became more united because of this, with the people in the West Bank standing along with people in Gaza.”

Many Palestinians, he says, sensed that Israel gave up before it had reached its objectives – and that Netanyahu had used the conflict to help him in upcoming elections.

Drones still buzz overhead, he adds, but otherwise Gaza is quiet – except for the honking of car horns and announcements over mosque loudspeakers.

“I was traveling through Jabalya, talking to the driver and passengers in the car, and they were all saying [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak lost the battle. Our driver understands Hebrew and he watched the speeches on TV, and he said, ‘I could see defeat in their faces.’”

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