Telling all Gazans, “Israel does not hate you,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel announced a cease fire in Gaza commencing at 2 AM (Midnight GMT) Sunday, January 18, 2009.
The announcement comes after three weeks of fighting in the coastal strip, as Israel launched a massive offensive aimed at halting years of daily rocket fire on its southern communities.
The cease fire was announced after a rare after Sabbath meeting of the Israeli cabinet. Cabinet members expressed opinions and voted on the cease fire.
Israel will keep troops in Gaza for an unspecified time.
“Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions,” Olmert said. “If the fire stops entirely, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will weigh pulling out of Gaza at a time that befits us. If not, the IDF will continue to act to defend our residents.”
“We can say that the conditions have been brought about that enable us to say that the aims that we laid down for the operation have been completely achieved, if not more than that,” Olmert said. “Hamas has been dealt a very serious blow.”
But Olmert said Israel is prepared to respond if Hamas militants continue fighting in the Palestinian territory.
“If foes decide to continue to fight against us, then we will be ready and we shall consider ourselves justified in replying,” he said. “If Hamas still is not able to correctly evaluate the blow that has been inflicted on it, if it continues to attack us, it will be surprised at Israel’s determination.
“I do not suggest that Hamas or other terrorist organizations try us.”
Olmert praised and thanked Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for her tireless diplomatic efforts. She has been the subject of death threats from anti-Israel activisits and militants.
He also thanked Defense Minister Ehud Barak for his “professionalism,” as well as a list of others including IDF troops and their commanders, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Ben (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin, Mossad head Meir Dagan, Israel Police and Magen David Adom.
He also noted that he had received letters from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel offering their help to end arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip.
More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on Dec. 27, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. At least 13 Israelis have also died.
Hamas remains quiet and has apparently not agreed to the cease fire.
But the international community expects Hamas to relent for the humanitarian good of the Gazan people.
Gaza is in ruins and in desperate need of food, water, medical supplies and medical workers, sewage control and other emergency services.
A Hamas spokesman says the militant group will continue fighting until Israeli troops leave Gaza.
Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum made the statement Saturday as Israeli leaders met to approve an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that would halt Israel’s 22-day-old offensive but leave troops in Gaza for a 10-day cooling-off period.
Barhoum did not explicitly say whether Hamas would hold its fire if Israeli forces do leave Gaza.
His comments were in a speech aired on Hamas television in Gaza.
Our report earlier today:
Israel: “Goal Today” Is Unilateral Cease Fire, No Matter What Hamas Says
Fox News Reported:
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that a unilateral cease-fire should be accompanied by a timetable for withdrawal, and a Hamas spokesman said the group would not stop fighting until Israel is out of Gaza.