Israeli forces leave Gaza after Hamas declares conditional ceasefire

Sunday, Jan. 18, Hamas leader Mussa Abu Marzuk in Damascus declared an immediate ceasefire on behalf of all the Palestinian organizations conditional on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza within a week. A few minutes later, two rockets exploded in two kibbutzim near the Gaza border, topping 15 fired earlier at Sderot, Ashkelon, Eshkol, Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. debkafile‘s military sources report that armed Hamas units are moving to take control of the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces withdraw.
The Israeli security cabinet in a special meeting Saturday night, Jan. 17, approved a unilateral halt in military operations in the Gaza Strip from 0200 hours while leaving Operation Cast Lead forces in Gaza to test Hamas’ response.
Although prime minister Ehud Olmert assured the nation that all the Gaza operation’s goals had been reached, Hamas promised to keep on fighting and shooting rockets, while neither Washington nor Cairo guaranteed action to end the flow of weapons to Gaza.
Sunday, a large group of European leaders from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic descended on Jerusalem.
debkafile‘s sources report they came ostensibly to show the flag for Israel, but they were also on hand to ascertain that the Israeli military quit the Gaza Strip – even without the operation’s goals being met – and also to lean hard on Israel to open the six Gaza crossings as demanded by Hamas. Earlier, they met Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak at Sharm e-Sheikh.
The plan the European leaders have developed with Egypt provides a $1.6 billion aid package for the Gaza Strip’s reconstruction.
The millions of tons of cement and supplies will be shipped to Israeli ports and delivered through the Gaza crossings over a period of years. Israel, they believe, will not be able to refuse to reopen the crossings, thereby bringing its embargo of the Gaza Strip to an end.

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