Hamas/Israeli ceasefire holds firm

Palestinians celebrated after a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was being respected.

Israeli men inspect the damage caused to a house by a rocket launched by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli town of Ofakim on November 18, 2012. Picture: AFP

GAZA/JERUSALEM - A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held firm on Thursday with scenes of joy in Gaza over what Palestinians hailed as a victory.

But both sides said their fingers were still on the trigger.

In the sudden calm, Palestinians who had been under Israeli bombs for eight days poured into Gaza streets for a celebratory rally, walking past wrecked houses and government buildings.

But as a precaution, schools stayed closed in southern Israel, where nerves were jangled after constant rain of rockets during the most serious Israeli-Palestinian fighting in four years.

Israel had launched its strikes last week with a declared aim of ending rocket attacks on its territory from Gaza, ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist.

Hamas had responded with more rockets.

The truce brokered by Egypt's new Islamist leaders, working with the United States, headed off an Israeli invasion of Gaza.

MORE DEATHS

Despite the quiet on the battlefield, the death toll from the Gaza conflict crept up on both sides.

163 Palestinians were killed, more than half of them civilians, including 37 children, during the Israeli onslaught, according to Gaza medical officials.

Nearly 1,400 rockets struck Israel, killing four civilians and two soldiers.

Israel dropped 1,000 times more explosive devices into Gaza Strip, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.

"HANDS ON TRIGGER"

The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said in Cairo his Islamist movement would respect the truce, but warned that if Israel violated it "our hands are on the trigger".

Netanyahu said he had agreed to "exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce", but told Israelis a tougher approach might be required in the future.

In a speech, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, urged all Palestinian factions to respect the ceasefire and said his government and security services would monitor compliance.