JERUSALEM – Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in its 22-day offensive that turned Gaza neighborhoods into battlegrounds and dealt a stinging blow to the Islamic militants of Hamas, but the government said its troops will stay in the Palestinian territory for now.
Shortly before top leaders voted for the cease-fire at an emergency security meeting, Hamas threatened to keep fighting until Israeli troops leave Gaza.
“Our goals as they were set at the beginning of the operation were fully realized, and even more than that,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after the 12-member Security Cabinet voted to halt the assault.
“Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions,” Olmert said. “If the fire stops entirely, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will weigh pulling out of Gaza at a time that befits us. If not, the IDF will continue to act to defend our residents.”
More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on Dec. 27, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. At least 13 Israelis have also died.
The offensive will stop at 2 a.m. local time (7 p.m. EST), Olmert said.