Israeli aircraft pounded 50 Hamas positions early Saturday.
The meaning is not to be misunderstood: Israel wants Hamas to make a decision on peace or war.
“This yet again illustrates that there is no place safe in the Gaza Strip,” said Chris Gunness, a U.N. spokesman. “This fighting has to stop because innocent people, women and children, who are taking refuge in neutral U.N. buildings are discovering that there is nowhere safe.”
Israel will make a decision this evening, Saturday, the 22nd day of conflict, to accept a cease fire or continue the fighting.
Tonight the Israel cabinet will meet to vote on a cease fire worked out by Egypt, Frace, Britain and others with input from Hamas and Israel.
But key to the cease fire is what Israel really wants: a Memorandum of Understanding signed yesterday by the U.S. and Isreal to prevent the rearming of Hamas by smuggling.
For two days Hamas has offered differing versions of its intentions, first agreeing to a cease fire and then rejecting provisions and continuing to send rockets into Israel.
Earlier Friday, Hamas’ Syrian-based political chief Khaled Mashaal rejected Israeli conditions for a truce and demanded an immediate opening of the besieged territory’s borders.
Mashaal called on all Arab countries to cut ties with the Jewish state during a summit of Arab leaders in Doha, Qatar.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad gave Mashaal their full backing, but significantly, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia boycotted the summit.
Now, Isreal says its cabinet will vote tonight on a unilateral cease fire.
Alalysts say the decision may mean that Israel has decided to end the operation in Gaza, “Cast Lead,” without an agreement with Hamas, relying instead on the support of the United States and Egypt.
Most insiders in Israel say Israel will end the fighting unilaterally on Saturday evening, and respond with “certain force” to any Hamas provocation.
Israel so strongly believed in the U.S. offer to prevent the rearming of Hamas that a trip was hastily put together Thursday to allow Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to be at the U.S. State Department for a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday. The two inked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the prevention of the rearming of Hamas.
U.S., Israel Sign Agreement Aimed At Preventing Rearmed Gaza, Hamas
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after signing a deal on stopping the flow of arms to Hamas. Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency
The MOU ‘Unequivocally’ condemns “terrorism as unjustifiable, wherever and by whomever committed and whatever the motivation, in particular, the recent rocket and mortar attacks and other hostile activity perpetrated against Israel from Gaza by terrorist organizations.”
Livni called the deal, reached on the final working day of the Bush administration, “a vital complement for a cessation of hostility.” It paved the path for Saturday night’s vote in the 12-member Security Cabinet.
Under the deal, Egypt would shut down weapons smuggling routes with international help and discussions on opening Gaza’s blockaded border crossings — Hamas’ key demand — would take place at a later date.
By John E. Carey
Israel Expected To Begin “Unilateral Gaza Cease Fire,” End Fighting Saturday
From The Associated Press
From al Arabia:
Gaza assault rages on as Israel prepares truce
The New York Times:
Humanitarian Situation in Gaza Worsens
PARIS (Reuters) – Medecins Sans Frontieres’ doctors cannot reach sick and injured civilians in Gaza because of Israel’s bombing campaign and may have to pull out if the security situation worsens, officials from the aid group said yesterday.Three weeks into a major offensive that has killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, Israeli forces have pushed deep into the city of Gaza despite international pressure on their government.
Flares are seen during an Israeli military operation in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli side of the border, Friday Jan. 16, 2009. Israel’s Security Cabinet will vote Saturday night on an Egyptian proposal for a truce to end the 3-week-old offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, a senior government official said.The official said a vote to approve the truce would amount to a ‘unilateral’ cease-fire, though Israeli forces would only leave Gaza after an official declaration that the fighting was over. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)