End of an era: After more than two weeks of violent protests across Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has resigned, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced in a brief TV appearance Friday evening.
"In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic," a grim-looking Suleiman said. "He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor."
A senior Israeli official expressed his hope that Mubarak's departure will bring no change to the Jewish state's peaceful relations with Cairo.
"It's too early to foresee how (the resignation) will affect things," the official said. "We hope that the change to democracy in Egypt will happen without violence and that the peace accord will remain."
Egypt's higher military council will sack the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament and rule with the head of the supreme constitutional court, al-Arabiya television reported later Friday.
In Lebanon's capital, Beirut, fireworks lit up the sky Friday following the news from Egypt. Celebratory gunfire could be heard in the Shiite dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.On al-Manar TV, Hezbollah's television station, Egyptian anchor Amr Nassef cried emotionally on the air and said: "Allahu Akbar, the Pharaoh is dead. Am I dreaming? I'm afraid to be dreaming."
In Gaza, residents poured into the streets and shots were fired in the air celebration. Mubarak's departure marks the "beginning of the revolution's victory," Hamas said in response to the drama in Egypt.
US President Barack Obama learned of Mubarak's decision to resign during a White House meeting. The White House said Obama watched news coverage of the hoopla in Cairo for several minutes on a television set just outside the Oval Office and will make a statement later Friday.
Revolution in Egypt (Photo: AFP)
US Vice President Joe Biden said the change of power in Egypt was a "pivotal" moment in history for that country and the Middle East, adding that the transition in Egypt must be one of "irreversible" change.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she respects Mubarak's decision to stand down and called for dialogue for the formation of a broad-based government. In a statement, Ashton also said the European Union shared the objective of the Egyptian people for an orderly transition to democracy and free and fair elections in Egypt.
The masses gathered at Cairo's al-Tahrir Square responded to the announcement with cries of joy and car horns were heard around the capital in celebration, after Suleiman made the announcement on national TV. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters waved flags, cried, cheered and embraced, chanting
"The people have brought down the regime."
"I can't believe I'm going to see another president in my lifetime! I was born during Sadat's time but was only four when he died," one protestor told Reuters. "I'm overwhelmed with the news of Mubarak stepping down. Nothing can ever stop the Egyptian people anymore. It's a new era for Egypt."
Party time in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
Outside Mubarak's Oruba Palace in northern Cairo, women on balconies ululated with the joyous tongue-trilling used to mark weddings and births.
"Finally we are free," said Safwan Abo Stat, a 60-year-old in the crowd of protesters at the palace. "From now on anyone who is going to rule will know that these people are great."
Earlier Friday, al-Jazeera reported that the president left Cairo and headed to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his authorities to Suleiman while keeping his title. But an explosion of protests Friday rejecting the move appeared to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely.
Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soliders stood by, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building. A governor of a southern province was forced to flee to safety in the face of protests there.
It was the biggest day of protests yet in the upheaval that began Jan. 25, growing from youth activists working on the Internet into a mass movement that tapped into widespread discontent with Mubarak's authoritarian lock on power, corruption, economic woes and widespread disparities between rich and poor.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young suporters were among the organizers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press, "This is the greatest day of my life."
"The country has been liberated after decades of repression," he said adding that he expects a "beautiful" transition of power.
AP, Reuters and Roee Nahmias contributed to the report