Gaza: fighting continues —despite supposed Israeli ceasfire

Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen exchanged fire in northern Gaza early Jan. 18—hours after Israel declared a “unilateral cease-fire.” The fighting began when Hamas militants opened fire at an Israeli patrol near Jabalya refugee camp. None of the soldiers was wounded. Additionally, at least seven rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel shortly after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that his security cabinet had voted in favor of the cease-fire. (Ha’aretz, Jan. 18)

Israeli troops to remain in Gaza; Hamas vows continued resistance
Olmert announced the cease-fire at 2 AM local time—but said Israeli forces will remain in Gaza. Olmert claimed that Israel’s goals “were met in their entirety, and even beyond,” and that Hamas had deliberately been left out of the ceasefire arrangement because it is a “terrorist” organization. He said Israel would consider withdrawing its forces from Gaza only if Hamas agrees to completely hold its fire.

Hamas itself said that it would disregard the Israeli ceasefire declaration, fighting on until its own demands are met. “They have to understand that they have to talk to the resistance. It’s useless to talk to Abu Mazen,” said Hamas representative in Lebanon Usama Hamdan, referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “As long as the troops remain in Gaza resistance will continue,” added Hamdan.

Olmert expressed “regret for the pain and the suffering for the unbearable situation,” but nonetheless blamed Hamas for their condition. “Israel used its forces with as much sensitivity to the civilian pollution as it could,” he claimed. Also at the press conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the assault on Gaza has been “a war of choice, but the right one.” More than 1,200 Palestinians, a third of them children, have been killed in the three-week Israeli onslaught.

This is not the first time a unilateral ceasefire has been declared in the current conflict. On Dec. 22, five days before Israel launched its air war on Gaza, Hamas declared a self-imposed one-day halt to its fire, to give negotiations a chance to restore calm. Israel rejected this. Speaking to Reuters on that same day, Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said, “A ceasefire cannot be unilateral.” (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 17)

“No place to flee”
Israeli air-strikes continued through Jan. 17, and again drew harsh international criticism. Two brothers, aged five and seven, were killed in a strike on a UN-run school in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge from fierce clashes between Israeli ground troops and Palestinian fighters. The boys’ mother lost her legs in the attack.

“This yet again illustrates the tragedy that there is no safe place in Gaza. Not even a UN installation is safe,” said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. “There is no place to flee.” (Middle East Online, NYT, The National, UAE, Jan. 17)

See our last post on the Gaza.

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