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After 8 days of Gaza violence, Israel declares mission accomplished, Hamas claims victory

Hamas declares a national holiday after the cease-fire with Israel, but sees the halt in fighting as a temporary solution. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Updated at 6:10 a.m. ET: Israel’s military said it had accomplished the objectives of its airstrike campaign against Hamas by causing “severe damage” to its military capabilities after a cease-fire was declared late Wednesday.

A statement on the Israel Defense Forces website said Operation Pillar of Defense had “damaged and destroyed significant elements of Hamas' strategic capabilities” in the Gaza Strip.

“Following eight days of operations, the IDF has accomplished its pre-determined objectives for Operation Pillar of Defense, and has inflicted severe damage to Hamas and its military capabilities,” the  IDF statement said.“These actions have severely impaired Hamas' launching capabilities, resulting in a decreasing number of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip,” it added.

Meanwhile, people in Gaza declared victory. "Allahu akbar (God is greatest), dear people of Gaza you won," blared mosque loudspeakers in Gaza, according to Reuters. "You have broken the arrogance of the Jews."


The exiled leader of the Islamist Hamas movement, Khaled Meshaal, said that Israel had been defeated and failed in its "adventure," Reuters reported. "We have come out of this battle with our heads up high," he said.

And while he said Hamas would respect the truce if Israel did, Meshaal also sounded a warning. “If it [Israel] does not comply, our hands are on the trigger," he told a news conference in Cairo.

Israel and Hamas agree to Gaza cease-fire

Even after the cease-fire came into force at 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET) Wednesday, a dozen rockets from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel, all in open areas, a police spokesman said. And in Gaza, witnesses reported an explosion shortly after the truce, but there were no casualties and the cause was unclear.

Some residents of Israel close to Gaza say deals brokered with Hamas in the past have fallen through, and they worry this one will, too. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

A top U.S. official involved in the negotiations that led to the cease-fire told NBC News that making it work was going to be a "complicated process."

Speaking for the administration, the senior official said: "The cease-fire is a big step toward trying to put in place more enduring relationships."

The official said it was “significant” that Egypt had "stepped up and is playing a crucial role" in the peace talks.
Asked whether Hamas had been strengthened by the outcome, the official said that Israel got what it wanted, referring to the damage to Hamas’ rocket-firing capabilities.

Ashraf al-Qedweh, a spokesperson for the Gaza-based health ministry, told NBC News that 162 people had died in Gaza during the conflict, including 42 children and 11 women, with 1,225 wounded.

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The IDF statement said five Israelis had been killed and 240 injured.

It listed the military successes of Pillar of Defense, saying the IDF had “targeted over 1,500 terror sites including 19 senior command centers, operational control centers and Hamas' senior-rank headquarters, 30 senior operatives, damaging Hamas' command and control, hundreds of underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 terror tunnels, dozens of Hamas operation rooms and bases, 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities and dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites.”

Americans tied to Israel caught in the chaos of Gaza conflict

Residents of Gaza return to their homes with hope the cease-fire persists. ITV's John Ray reports.

It said that 1,506 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel during the period of the operation with Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system intercepting 421 of the missiles.

Tension remained high Thursday with two sirens heard in southern Israel, but no reports of rocket strikes.

Israeli forces said they had seized 55 suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank Thursday, Reuters reported.

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The detainees were from various armed Palestinian factions and included "senior operatives," the army said in a statement, adding that it would "continue to maintain order ... and prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli communities."

The West Bank is under the sway of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah movement, but many of its residents are sympathetic with his Hamas rivals. 

NBC's Lawahez Jabari and Reuters contributed to this report.

Ali Ali / EPA

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, center, waves to crowds of people celebrating after a ceasefire was announced in Gaza City, Nov. 22, 2012.

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