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1:15 a.m. At the very least, I'm grateful that there has been a cessation of violence in Gaza. My concern is that we're at the start of a different phase which will not bring resolution but further hardship.
Good night and peace to all.
12:30 a.m. Let's be clear: the Israeli move today is not a meaningful cease-fire. It is simply a declaration that they are going to hold their military forces in place, in effect reinstituting an armed re-occupation of Gaza.
Having failed to achieve --- so far --- its goal of removing Hamas from power, Tel Aviv is now tightening its constriction of Gaza, hoping that the economic and security situation will be so untenable that the Gazan leadership eventually put their hands up. And, if Hamas react by upping the ante with rocket fire --- in effect putting their heads above the parapet --- Israel will claim legitimacy to strike even harder with its military forces.
On the surface, it's a clever strategy --- already the cyber-campaign has been launched to claim that Israel has the moral high ground since Hamas has refused to surrender and vowed to continue resistance. But in a few days, I suspect we'll see the flaws in the grand design. Israel has already lost Egypt, its Arab partner in the scheme to overthrow Hamas, and there is a good chance it is re-fashioning a bloc in which Syria, Turkey, and Iran play leading roles. There is even a chance that Tel Aviv may lose American support for the scheme to bring back the Palestinian Authority: we shall see when the Obama Administration steps up to the plate next week.
And here's the weakness in the Israeli strategy that no one will acknowledge. If Hamas fell, who would come into power? The Palestinian Authority? No way --- Gazans who have suffered close to 1300 dead are not going to welcome back a leadership they chucked out in 2006, especially when that leadership privately aided and abetted the Israeli assault.
So that means Israel has to maintain both the economic pressure and the military presence --- either in Gaza or dangling like Damocles' sword on the border --- or pull back and accept a Gazan leadership which may be less amenable to a longer-term agreement than the present one was in mid-2008. And the longer that it maintains that pressure --- given that memories of the humanitarian cost of the last few weeks will not linger but be magnified by an Iron Lead occupation --- the further its international position will erode.
11:45 p.m. A more substantive Hamas response? Rocket hits Hetzarim airbase in Beersheba and six others land elsewhere in last hour.
11:30 p.m. Hamas has already struck back at Olmert's speech, declaring that Israel's announcement "does not end the resistance". It "reserves the right to continue resisting Israel with all means" if Israel does not withdraw and lift the blockade on Gaza.
11 p.m. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making his national broadcast announcing an unilateral cease-fire, beginning at 2 a.m. Israel/Gaza time. He's declaring victory: Hamas have been dealt "a very serious blow", although they are "still not fully aware of how badly they have been damaged". Olmert is also holding up the "international agreement" to block arms to Gaza as a sign of Israel's triumph. And he is killing off any meaningful talks on Gaza, declaring that there will be no recognition of Hamas and that it has "no place in negotiations".
Immediate analysis: Olmert is blowing smoke in everyone's eyes and possibly his own. The Israeli objective was to knock Hamas out, not deliver a glancing military blow. Most of the organization's leadership is still alive, whether in Gaza or Damascus, and their base of support has probably been strengthened by the Israeli assault.
10:40 p.m. Rockets fired from Gaza have hit Ashkelon and Ashdod. Awaiting reports of any casualties.
10:20 p.m. It appears that a lot of people are scrambling to find a response to the Israeli unilateral cease-fire. Egypt, which increasingly looks like it has been wrong-footed by the manoeuvre, is loudly proclaiming that it has invited world leaders to Cairo on Sunday. The list including Palestianian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, the leaders of France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, and Britain, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and representatives from the United States, Russia, and European Commission.
Reports indicate that Egypt wishes "to restore the truce between Israel and Hamas, and to lift the Israeli-led blockade on the strip". However, given Israel's clear indication today that it wishes to do neither, the more likely explanation is that Cairo is scrambling to protect its reputation in the Arab world after walking hand-in-hand with Tel Aviv and then getting pushed aside.
8 p.m. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has condemned "outrageous attack" by Israel on UN shelter/school. No doubt, after Minister of Defense Ehud Barak apologies for a "grave error" --- as he did yesterday over the shelling of the UN compound --- Ban will says "That's OK" and praise Israel --- as he did yesterday --- for its contribution to humanitarian corridor.
9:05 p.m. Amidst the diplomatic developments, a graphic reminder of the humanitarian issues that are far from resolution. Ahdaf Soueif in The Guardian of London today:
According to the medics here, to reports from doctors inside the Gaza Strip and to Palestinian eye-witnesses, more than 95% of the dead and injured are civilians. Many more will probably be found when the siege is lifted and the rubble is cleared. The doctors speak of a disproportionate number of head injuries - specifically of shrapnel lodged in the brain.
They also speak of the extensive burns of white phosphorus. These injuries are, as they put it, 'incompatible with life'. They are also receiving large numbers of amputees. This is because the damage done to the bone by explosive bullets is so extensive that the only way the doctors in Gaza can save lives is by amputating.
7 p.m. Confirmation coming through that Israel has declared a unilateral cease-fire. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adds that Israel retains freedom to respond to Hamas attacks.
This is now a de facto military re-occupation of Gaza.
6:40 p.m. Gaza death toll now 1230, of whom 410 are children. More than 5300 wounded.
6:25 p.m. Apparently United Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon met some politicians in Lebanon today and issued a statement. I can't be bothered to say anything further except....
Come back, Kofi Annan, we miss you.
6:05 p.m. Further re-alignment: while we await political reaction to Israel's unilateral ceasefire, its move for a force to block "arms smuggling" to Gaza has been supported by Britain, France, and Germany, all of whom have offered warships.
I know it may be too early to mention this, but does anyone recall what happened when the US and European countries sent warships to control traffic in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s?
5:55 p.m. Want a clue to the shift of position by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak this afternoon? Reuters reports, "Egyptian police used batons to beat protesters who rallied against the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in central Cairo on Saturday." The demonstration was called by the Muslim Brotherhood.
And, in an interesting development, Mubarak will meet Palestianian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday. Is this to find a way to work with the new Israeli plan or a sign that they may back away from it?
5:50 p.m. The toll from the UN school/shelter shelled this morning by Israel is two dead and 25 wounded. Three daughters and a niece of a prominent Gazan doctor were killed as he was being interviewed on Israeli television, and at least 10 people were killed by a tank shell during a funeral wake in Gaza City.
Late afternoon update (5:30 p.m.): Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has blinked, at least publicly.
With Israel setting aside the Egyptian proposals for its unilateral cease-fire, Mubarak --- probably to cover his back, both with other Arab states and with his own population --- has had to put a bit of distance between himself and Tel Aviv. He has called for an immediate cease-fire and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and he gave a big clue as to the reason for Israel's decision to go it alone, declaring that Egypt would not accept an international monitoring force on its side of the Egypt-Gaza border.
1:50 p.m.To repeat for emphasis, because no one in media seems to take notice: Did Barack Obama and his advisors know of and agree to the Rice-Livni understanding for US-Israeli effort to block arms smuggling to Hamas? And did they anticipate the unilateral Israel ceasefire?
1:30 p.m. Just announced that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will make a televised address today. Get ready for that unilateral ceasefire.
12:20 p.m. Hamas makes its initial diplomatic play today: Osama Hamdan calls on regional states to stand by Gazan "resistance" and on Europe to cut ties to Israel.
12:10 p.m. An interesting twist in the latest analysis from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. The piece by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff starts off to find, "Who is really winning the war in Gaza?". However, while wandering about looking for the victory --- maybe Hamas is split between its Damascus and Gazan branches --- they actually point to Israel's inability to define its political objective:
The most effective Israeli deterrence, [advisors to Minister of Defense Ehud Barak] said, had already been achieved by the end of last week. When Barak asked just when, in their opinion, Israel ought to pull out of Gaza, most of the participants answered: Yesterday.
This uncertainty, "What have we really achieved?", may explain the admission in the conclusion that Israel's war has been far from noble:
It is a little difficult to understand how a war, albeit necessary and justified, that includes the dropping of one-ton bombs from a height of 30,000 feet on a densely populated city can stir such national pride. The most nauseating of these new anthems explains that the IDF is the "army of the heroes of glory" and promises to give a hug to each and every one of these heroes, from the lowliest private all the way up to the chief of staff. Just one more reason to hope it all ends quickly: Then these cloying efforts will pass, too.
11:20 a.m. Of the 1199 Gazans killed to date, 410 are children, 108 are women and 118 are elderly.
11:10 a.m. Want to know the American strategy behind this morning's Israeli unilateral cease-fire? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after signing agreement with Israeli Foreign Minsiter Tzipi Livni to halt arms smuggling: "It will be clear that Mahmoud Abbas is demonstrating that he will be the Palestinian leader for all the Palestinian people."
11:05 a.m. This is the deadliest 48-hour period in the conflict, with more than 160 Gazans killed.
11 a.m. UN official Chris Gunness: several shells hit the school/shelter this morning with one "direct hit", killing two and wounding 14 as hundreds took refuge. They are keeping lists for an investigation "to see if war crimes have been committed".
10:55 a.m. Confirmation that the Israeli unilateral cease-fire leads immediately to an open-ended occupation: an official tells Agence France Press, "Israeli troops would remain inside the territory for an unspecified period."
Which in turn means that fighting will continue at some level --- a Hamas official has just told AFP that they will continue to battle occupying forces.
10:40 a.m. Gazan death toll now close to 1200.
10:30 a.m. United Nations officials are calling for investigation of this morning's shelling of a UN school/shelter which killed at least two children.
Five rockets have been fired into southern Israel, after 22 were launched on Friday.
Morning update (10 a.m. Israel/Gaza time): The key development of the day, the Israeli Cabinet declaration of a unilateral cease-fire, is still awaited.Already, however, it is being reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will follow up the announcement with a visit to Egypt on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Hamas representatives are in Cairo. It will be intriguing to see how the Egyptians will explain Tel Aviv's decision or if they even try to do so. There is also an interesting 48-hour period between yesterday's summit in Qatar and the gathering of Arab countries for an economic meeting in Kuwait, where the two emerging blocs (the Egypt-led bloc against Hamas and the Syria-led bloc urging strong support of the organisation) will encounter each other for the time.
A symbolic but pointed development at the United Nations General Assembly, where the 192-member body voted 142-6 with 8 abstentions demanded "full respect" of last week's Security Council resolution for an immediate cease-fire. The debate was dominated by harsh denunciation of Israel and marked by arguments when Egypt and the European Union tried to push through an alternative motion that was less criticial of Tel Aviv.
And, during this diplomatic endgame --- which is far from being an endgame, only the start of a new phase of the conflict --- the military assault and civilian deaths continue. Two children were killed when Israeli artillery shells hit a United Nations school north of Gaza City. Three Gazans will killed in a tower block and two others slain in Khan Younis.