Israel Declares Cease-Fire In Gaza

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a suspension of the three-week-old military offensive in Gaza, but a Hamas spokesman said the Palestinians would continue to fight until Israeli forces withdraw.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has announced a unilateral cease-fire in Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza. It will begin Sunday morning. Olmert appeared on Israeli national television, and spoke directly to the people of Gaza.

(Soundbite of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech)

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): We regret very much the fact that there were so many who, in spite of the genuine efforts made by the Israeli army, suffered from this confrontation.

ROBERTS: The decision was made after several hours of discussion inside Israel's security cabinet, which includes top political, military and intelligence officials. Olmert stressed that Hamas was not part of this decision. Israel will silence its guns for several days, but it reserves the right to resume its offensive if attacks by Hamas don't stop. NPR's Mike Shuster is with us now from Jerusalem. Mike, give us some more of the specifics from the cease-fire announcement.

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, it turns out that Prime Minister Olmert wasn't very specific about it. He did say that the cease-fire will take hold in the middle of the night tonight. He said that Israeli troops would hold their positions in Gaza for some days. It was expected, actually, that he might say it would be a five-day period or a 10-day period before they decided, perhaps, to pull out from Gaza, but he didn't say that. And he said that Israel would respond to any continued attacks on Hamas's part. Beyond that, we don't really have much detail about the way that this cease-fire is going to be implemented.

ROBERTS: So what does Israel expect from Hamas?

SHUSTER: Israel expects Hamas to stop firing its rockets into Israel, and to stop attacking Israel's troops inside Gaza. Prime Minister Olmert made it clear that if Hamas reacts in that way, then Israel will take further steps to diffuse this conflict. But it looks like the Israelis are going to stay in Gaza for a while and see whether Hamas does that.

ROBERTS: And has Israel achieved the goals that it set out at the beginning of this offensive?

SHUSTER: Well, Prime Minister Olmert believes so. His announcement of a cease-fire was preceded by a long list of achievements that he believes Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza have accomplished. He said that Israel has, in effect, regained its notion of its strength and deterrence in the Middle East, sending a signal to its enemies not to attack again because Israel is capable of defeating them.

He argued strenuously that Israel had reduced the number of rocket attacks from Gaza into Southern Israel. But at the same time, he acknowledged that not all those rocket attacks had stopped, and Hamas had not been destroyed inside Gaza. So from the Israeli point of view, maybe things have been accomplished, but not entirely clear.

ROBERTS: Has there been any response from Hamas?

SHUSTER: Yes, there has been a very quick response from Hamas. A number of different spokesman in Beirut and elsewhere have said that Israel must withdraw its troops first before Hamas enters into a cease-fire. One Hamas leader said if Israel does pull back its troops, Hamas may decide to stop fire, but not until then.

ROBERTS: NPR's Mike Shuster in Jerusalem. Thanks, Mike.

SHUSTER: You're welcome.

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