JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel was set to begin a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip at 2 a.m. Sunday.
The National Security Cabinet voted Saturday night to approve the cease-fire. Seven ministers voted for the measure, two voted against and one abstained, according to reports.
The declaration came on the 21st day of Operation Cast Lead.
In a statement to the public and the media at 11 p.m. Saturday night, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the objectives of the operation in Gaza, which included two weeks of ground operations in the coastal strip, “were met in full, and even beyond.”
Olmert made it clear that the decision to halt Israel’s operations in Gaza was unilateral, based on agreements sought with the international community.
“This is not a ceasefire with Hamas,” he said. “These are understandings with sources in the international community which Hamas, as an illegitimate entity, has no place to be involved,” he said.
The prime minister said that he had received letters from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledging their assistance in ending arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.
Israeli troops will remain in Gaza for now, Olmert said. He added that if rockets continue to fall on southern Israel, then Israel would be prepared to respond.
Olmert noted that as he was speaking, a demonstration of hundreds of Israelis demanding that abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, who is believed to be held in Gaza, be released as part of any cease-fire.
“The Israeli government is working in many ways to bring Gilad Shalit home and, during the days of the operation, we did many things that brought us closer to this goal, upon which I will not elaborate. Gilad is at the top of our list of priorities,” he said.
Israel’s announcement came a day after Israel and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding in which the United States and its NATO and regional allies pledged to will Israel in efforts to keep arms from reaching Hamas.
The memorandum of understanding, signed Friday in Washington by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, enhances security cooperation.
Shortly after Olmert finished his announcement, a rocket from Gaza landed in Beersheba, one of more than 20 rocket and mortar attacks on the area Sunday. A rocket fired into Ashdod Saturday night caused power outages in the city. Earlier a rocket struck a synagogue in Tifrah, near Ofakim. The rocket hit during a break in Shabbat services and the synagogue was empty.
A seven-year-old boy struck in the head by shrapnel in Beersheba on Friday remained in critical condition.
Earlier on Saturday, nine soldiers were wounded during two separate incidents in Gaza. One of the incidents in which four soldiers were wounded is being investigated as a friendly-fire incident.
Hamas said Saturday night following the Israel cease-fire announcement that it would continue to fight as long as Israeli troops remain in Gaza. “If the Israeli military continues its existence in the Gaza Strip, that is a wide door for the resistance against the occupation forces,” Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamada said on al-Jazeera television, according to Reuters.