I was gone all day at a miserable UCLA basketball game, but I just came home to read big news from Haaretz:
Prime Minster Ehud Olmert on Saturday night announced that Israel’s security cabinet has voted in favor of a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, which went into effect at 2 A.M. local time.
The announcement comes after three weeks of fighting in the coastal strip, as Israel launched a massive military offensive aimed at halting years of daily rocket fire on its southern communities. Palestinian sources say that more than 1,100 Gazans have been killed since the offensive began on December 27. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israel Defense Forces have been killed during that period.
“I want to thank, first and foremost, my friend the defense minister, Ehud Barak, for his professional expertise, and the understanding he showed throughout the whole operation,” Olmert said.
“I also want to thank and express my appreciation to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for her contributions to the wide-ranging diplomatic efforts that greatly enhanced the international support Israel has received.”
The decision to launch the cease-fire was approved during a lengthy security cabinet meeting which began after sundown in Tel Aviv. Two ministers were against the move, and another abstained.
“Our fight is not with the people of Gaza,” Olmert said at the Tel Aviv press conference following the cabinet meeting. “We left Gaza in 2005 with the intention of never returning,” he said, referring to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of troops and settlers from the territory under former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Olmert warned that Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, was trying to establish its own hegemony in the region. He said that Hamas had underestimated Israel’s decisiveness, had been “surprised” by the launch of the offensive, and was still not fully aware of how badly it had been damaged.
Olmert said that “if Hamas entirely ends its rocket fire on Israel, Israel will consider an IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.” If that did not occur, he said, “The IDF will continue to operate in order to protect our citizens.”