Olmert 'to announce Gaza ceasefire'

Truce expected after 22 days of war and deaths of more than 1,200 Palestinians.

    Israel's offensive has killed at least 400 children according to the UN AFP]

    "Ehud Barak [the defence minister] has been quoted ... as saying that Israel has achieved almost all its goals.

    "So it would seem that Israel is happy now to call it quits to this operation, believing that it has done all it set out to do.

    "Israel could almost go it alone now. Because remember the role Egypt play is talking to Hamas. And this deal, as Israel see it, isn't with Hamas. It is something they are doing all on their own.

    "They can dictate when they pull their troops back, they don't need Egypt saying this is the table you signed up to, then they can look at opening up the crossings.

    "What Israelis are doing by this unilateral declaration is taking all the power into their hands and, almost, they will dictate now what happens and when."

    Reduce rocket fire

    About 1,230 Gazans have been killed in Gaza since the offensive began, according to UN and Palestinian medical sources.

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    At least 13 Israelis have died, three of them civilians.

    Israel is said to prefer a ceasefire to entering into an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, unnamed sources said.

    A unilateral truce would allow Israel to avoid agreeing concessions with Hamas, such as easing the 18-month-old blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has prevented medical aid and basic supplies from reaching the Palestinians.

    Egypt has been pushing Israel and the rival Palestinian factions to reach an agreement. A Hamas delegation had returned to Cairo on Friday for a second round of talks.

    Responding to speculation of a unilateral ceasefire by Israel, Hamas on Saturday threatened to ignore such a cessation and continue fighting.

    "Clearly, we have nothing new to propose ... either we hear what we have proposed [is accepted] or we will go back to the battlefield," Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, said.

    "The [large] number of our martyrs will not push us to surrender, but to insist on resistance."

    Hamas defiant

    Speaking at a forum in Beirut, Hamdan called on Arab leaders to stand by the Palestinian "resistance", and urged European nations to cut ties with Israel for its "crimes" in Gaza.

    An unnamed Israeli official told the AFP news agency that Israeli troops would remain in Gaza in the event of any such ceasefire being called.

    "If they [Hamas] decide to open fire, we will not hesitate to respond and continue the offensive," the official was quoted as saying.

    Israel's stated aim of the war, which it dubbed Operation Cast Lead, has been to reduce Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.

    On the first day of the offensive up to 100 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. In the past few days up to 20 have hit Israel daily.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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