Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel calls a ceasefire to hostilities

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that a unilateral ceasefire will begin at 02:00 on Sunday morning [00:00 GMT] but said that the country retained its right to defend itself. In his opening remarks he said, “Three weeks ago we started an operation in the Gaza strip and today I can tell you that the aims we set down have been completely achieved.” The Prime Minister insisted “Hamas have been dealt a very serious blow.”

“We are very close to achieving our goals” he said, and talked about what would soon follow. He said that plans had been put in place to stop the flow of arms into Gaza and that Israel would provide help to the civilian population.

He said Israel intended to help Gaza’s citizens and insisted that Israel had tried to avoid harming the civilian population. Olmert said he wished to express “great regret to the innocents of Gaza” affected during the conflict. But with more than 1,200 Palestinians lying dead and over 5,000 injured, Israel has made few friends during the three week operation.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until Israel leaves Gaza and with Ehud Olmert saying Israel will retain its right to respond to any rocket attacks, the ceasefire may be very short indeed. Troops will also remain on the ground which won’t please Hamas. Saeb Erakat, Palestinian chief negotiator, told CNN that while Israeli troops remains in Gaza “the ceasefire will not stand, it will break”. He said that the chance of reconciliation was slight and that it remained a “very fragile moment”.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman speaking on al-Jazeera said the ceasefire was a ploy to allow Barack Obama to enter the White House with a low level of tension in the Middle East. Hamas have in effect rejected the ceasefire saying they would not accept any Israeli troops to remain in the Gaza strip. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said he could not give a timeline as to when troops would pull out and said, “The challenge will come after two a.m.” Bit he warned Hamas, saying, “One rocket and we have the right to respond”

Any respite to the bombs may well be short lived. However, Ben Wedeman, CNN’s Senior International Correspondent, and the first western journalist to get into Gaza, said that there would be relief amongst the population if the bombardment stopped.

Operation Cast Lead, which started on 27th December, has not only left hundreds of Palestinians dead or injured, it has torn the infrastructure of the region apart. The conflict has won Israel few friends and many enemies. Israel continues to defend its actions. But while Israel’s Prime Minister has expressed regret and even apologised over some incidents, there have been mixed messages. Talking on CNN Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said it was “unfair to point to Israel for all those casualties” and blamed Hamas ordinance and their activities [BBC / Sky News / CNN / al-Jazeera].

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