(ADDS COMMENTS PRIME MINISTER, HAMAS, DETAILS )
By George Whitten, BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent, with BosNewsLife Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife) — Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, announced Saturday, January 17, a unilateral cease fire but said Israeli forces would remain in the Gaza Strip, as the militant group Hamas warned it would not end fighting yet, BosNewsLife monitored.
“As of 2 am Israel will stop its attack on Gaza but will continue its presence,” Olmert told his country in televised comments. However he made clear that the Israeli military would leave only if Hamas stops attacking Israel with rockets. “If Hamas will completely cease fighting, we will consider leaving,” he said. Olmert said at least 10 soldiers were killed in the operation and three citizens in southern Israel in rocket attacks.
“Our hearts are with them tonight and we send our best wishes to those who are wounded,” he added.
Olmert admitted that Israel decided in 2005 to leave Gaza and “not to be back.” However, he said, ” Israel find itself to be under fire, by Hamas,” and accused Iran of supporting the organization, trying to set up “a power-base” in the region.
Yet, Olmert said the Israeli military had met its objectives during the 22-day operation against Hamas militants, striking tunnels, rocket launchers and other key positions. “Two years of preparations proved we learned our lessons,” he explained.
But the prime minister acknowledged that rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel had not stopped completely, but added they had been significantly reduced.
He also used his live televised address to speak to the citizens of the Gaza Strip, saying Israel doesn’t hate them. “Even before the operation we didn’t hate you. We wanted to protect our own families. But we are hurting for every Palestinian child and family who suffer under Hamas,” he stresed.
Israel has been criticized for the reported over 1,000 people who Palestinian medics and United Nations officials say have died in Israeli strikes and the thousands of people who were reportedly injured. “Your screams of pain are touching us,” said Olmert, addressing the people of Gaza. Yet, he added it was the Hamas leadership who was to blame for their suffering. “I would like to express my regret for the suffering that Hamas has created. It used residents as human shields. It used mosques and the Palestinian population. The Hamas leadership is leading a very peaceful life outside. ”
He said the decision to call a unilateral ceasefire came after telephone calls before the cabinet meeting Saturday, January 17, with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak who he thanked for his “role in starting to stop the fire.”
Olmert thanked the United States for its role in signing a memorandum on the international community’s support to stop weapons being smuggled into Gaza.
The Israeli statesman said he had received assurances from Britain’s, Germany’s and France’s leaders that their countries would play an active role in helping to stop weapons entering Gaza illegally.
Hamas made clear however it would not end fighting yet. “No I can not guarantee anything,” said Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, when asked if his group will stop firing rockets into Israel, even if its forces eventually withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Worthy News reported earlier that Hamas had rejected a ceasefire proposal with Israel.
“We are doing our best to liberate all Palestinian lands. This will not end until the end of the occupation,” Hamdan told Al Jazeera television.
As he spoke, an Al Jazeera reporter said he had seen the firing of at least one rocket from the Gaza Strip. Israel said rocket attacks in recent years against Israel have impacted the lives of some one million Israelis.
Hamas has said it will ignore any truce unless its demands are met, including the reopening of a key border post with Egypt that Israel says has been used, along with tunnels, to smuggle weapons.
The Gaza Strip’s Christian minority was often in the crossfire, with believers saying a Protestant-run clinic and a Baptist church were damaged in Israeli airstrikes. At least one Christian teenager died of shock at the beginning of Israel’s offensive, while watching an explosion caused by an Israeli attack, Christians told BosNewsLife.