Saturday, January 17, 2009

Olmert announces Gaza ceasefire

Israel's offensive has killed at least 400 children according to the UN [AFP]
UN officials say two children were killed when Israeli tank fire hit a UN school [AFP]

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, has announced a unilateral truce in the Gaza Strip.
Israel will halt its offensive in Gaza at 0000 GMT on Sunday but troops will remain in the enclave for the time being and will respond to Hamas fire, Olmert said on Saturday.
The announcement came after a meeting of Israel's security council on Saturday evening and halts the 22-day offensive which has left more than 1200 Palestinians dead, more than 400 of them children.
Mission accomplished
"We have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond," Olmert said.
"If our enemies decide to strike and want to carry on then the Israeli army will regard itself as free to respond with force," he added.
Olmert said the war boosted Israel's deterrence and that Hamas's actions would decide when the military would withdraw.
"This operation strengthened the deterrence of the State of Israel in the face of all those who threaten us. "If Hamas completely stops its attacks, we will judge at what moment we will leave the Gaza Strip," he said.
Hamas defiant
Hamas, however, said it would continue fighting in Gaza as long as Israeli troops remained in the Hamas-ruled Strip.
"If the Israeli military continues its existence in the Gaza Strip, that is a wide door for the resistance against the occupation forces," Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Lebanon told Al Jazeera.
Fawzi Barhum, a Hamas spokesman, said: "The Zionist enemy must stop all its aggression, completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip, lift the blockade, and open the crossings. We will not accept the presence of a single soldier in Gaza.
"The enemy's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire confirms that this is a unilateral war launched in one direction, from the enemy upon our people," Barhum, who is in Gaza, said in a statement.
Speaking at a forum in Beirut, Hamdan called on Arab leaders to stand by the Palestinian "resistance" and urged European nations to cut ties with Israel for its "crimes" in Gaza.
Uncertainty prevails
Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent on the Gaza-Israel border, said: "What the Israelis are doing by this unilateral declaration is taking all the power into their own hands and they will almost dictate now what happens, and when.
"Israel could almost go it alone now because of the role Egypt is playing in talking to Hamas and this deal, as Israel sees it, isn't with Hamas - it is something they are doing on their own," he said.
Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said: "There are many questions that remain unanswered and what this announcement will mean for the Palestinians on the ground remains unclear because there was no clarity in that announcement."
Dr Azzam Tamimi, from the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, told Al Jazeera: "After the Israelis have managed to kill as many of the children and women of Gaza I doubt that people of Gaza will believe them. Ehud Olmert is a compulsive liar.
"The main objective of this operation right from the start was to turn the people of Gaza against Hamas and pave the way for Mahmoud Abbas [the Palestinian president] to return to Gaza. That is why the civilians were deliberately attacked and their lives shattered.
"This objective has failed, it hasn't been achieved and now Israel is declaring a unilateral truce. It is a defeat for the real objectives of this operation," Tamimi said.
Rami Khouri, the Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera: "This unilateral ceasefire has no chance of being a durable ceasefire.
"Israel has tried many unilateral approaches and each one of them has simply made the situation worse for Israel.
"There is no chance of any unilateral move by Israel having any success. It has to be a negotiated agreement that responds to the basic legitimate needs of both sides," he said.
Sharm summit
A summit aimed at giving international backing to the ceasefire will be held in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday.
It is to be attended by the leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey, Jordan and the Czech Republic - which holds the rotating EU presidency - as well as presidents Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.
It was not immediately clear whether Israel would send a representative, and Hamas has not been invited.
Reduce rocket fire
About 1,230 Gazans have been killed in Gaza since the offensive began, according to UN and Palestinian medical sources.At least 13 Israelis have died, three of them civilians.
Israel decided on a unilateral ceasefire in preference to entering into an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, analysts said.
The unilateral truce allows Israel to avoid agreeing concessions with the Palestinian group, such as easing the 18-month-old blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has prevented medical aid and basic supplies from reaching the Palestinians.
Egypt has been pushing Israel and the rival Palestinian factions to reach an agreement. A Hamas delegation had returned to Cairo on Friday for a second round of talks.
Israel's stated aim of the war, which it dubbed Operation Cast Lead, has been to reduce Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.
On the first day of the offensive up to 100 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. In the past few days up to 20 have hit Israel on a daily basis.

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