Israel Begins Unilateral Gaza Cease-Fire

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

GAZA CITY, GAZA - A unilateral Israeli cease-fire a 22-day assault against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip has gone into effect.

Israel says it is halting military operations in Gaza. Its assault killed nearly 1,200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to stop the offensive early Sunday. But the military warned in a statement that Israeli forces would respond to all violence from Gaza militants.

Israel embarked on its assault to stop nearly daily rocket barrages on its south by militants from Gaza, and to put an end to Hamas arms smuggling. Five of long-range rockets exploded near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba after Olmert spoke but before the cease-fire went onto effect. No one was hurt.

"Olmert says that troops will remain in Gaza - apparently for 10 days," reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger in Jerusalem. "During that time, Israel and Egypt will work on security arrangements to halt Hamas weapons smuggling to Gaza."

Saying that Israel has achieved its goals in the offensive, government leaders voted to stop the assault during an emergency security meeting Saturday.

"We have achieved our goal," Olmert said. "Hamas has been beaten badly."

Shortly before the Israeli cabinet meeting began, Hamas vowed to keep fighting until Israel pulls its forces out of Gaza and lifts its crippling supply blockade on the territory.

At least one Hamas rocket was fired after the cease-fire announcement, Berger reports.

The Israel offensive has killed nearly 1,200 people, turned the streets and neighborhoods of the Gaza Strip into battlegrounds and dealt a stinging blow to the Islamic militants of Hamas.

In announcing the unilateral cease-fire, Olmert said in a televised address that Israel had achieved its goals, and more: "Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed," Olmert said. But Hamas remained defiant.

Fighting will stop at 2 a.m. local time (0000 GMT), but Israel will keep troops on the ground for the time being, Olmert said. If Hamas holds its fire, the military "will weigh pulling out of Gaza at a time that befits us." If not, Olmert said, Israel "will continue to act to defend our residents."

Olmert addressed worldwide concern about the suffering caused to civilians, who Gaza health officials say make up at least half of the dead.

"In the name of the government of Israel I would like to express my sorrow over the harm caused to uninvolved civilians, for the pain we caused them, for the suffering that they and their families felt because of the intolerable situation caused by Hamas," Olmert said.


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