Israel announces ceasefire in Gaza Strip; rocket fire into Israel continues

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The remains of a bombed orphanage and a mosque in Gaza
Image: ISM Palestine.

Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a press conference to announce that Israel would observe a unilateral ceasefire in their offensive in the Gaza Strip, but that Israeli troops would remain in Gaza. The ceasefire began at 2:00 a.m. local time in Gaza.

Olmert stated that he understands Hamas does not agree to the ceasefire. He also stated that in order for the Israeli to withdraw from Gaza, Hamas "must stop firing rockets" into Israel, but that excessive rocket fire would cause the Israel Defense Forces to "respond with force".

"At two o'clock in the morning (0000 GMT) we will stop fire but we will continue to be deployed in Gaza and its surroundings. If our enemies decide to strike and want to carry on then the Israeli army will regard itself as free to respond with force," said Olmert during the press conference.

"The IDF and the Israel Security Agency have succeeded in conducting an outstanding operation, utilizing all the elements of Israel's force - on land, at sea and in the air. The military operation was characterized by determination, sophistication, courage and an impressive ability in intelligence and operations, which led to significant and numerous achievements," added Olmert.

Despite the ceasefire, Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel. According to Press TV, at least 8 rockets have been fired overnight, the most ever fired into Israel at nighttime. This comes just four hours after Olmert said that "the factories in which its missiles were manufactured have been destroyed" along with "smuggling routes, through dozens of tunnels, have been bombed".

Hamas issued a statement following the press conference saying the ceasefire is not enough and that their resistance will continue.

"The occupier must halt his fire immediately and withdraw from our land and lift his blockade and open all crossings and we will not accept any one Zionist soldier on our land, regardless of the price that it costs," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.

Nearly 1,200 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the Israeli offensive into Gaza, and more than 400 of those killed have been children. The Israeli military says that at least 13 of their soldiers have been killed in the fighting.

Israel claims it began its offensive in order to stop rockets that Hamas was firing into Israel. The reason for Hamas to fire these rockets is that Israel blocks transport into the Gaza Strip, which Israel in turn does because those transports may include such rockets, thus creating a vicious circle. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, says that all three (the invasion, the rockets and the blockade) have to stop.