Before dawn the IDF moves troops into Gaza en masse to begin the forcible evacuation of Jewish settlers and disengagement protesters who have not yet left, begins demolishing settler homes in n....
With the 1/16 MOU in hand, along with a letter from European heads of state pledging to support the U.S.-led efforts outlined therein and a private message from Mubarak to the Israeli security cabinet received today, Olmert formally declares a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza effective 2:00 A.M. local time on 1/18 (7:00 P.M. 1/17 EST). Stressing that Hamas was not party to any of the pledges secured by Israel, Olmert states: “If [the Palestinians] stop firing, we will consider leaving Gaza at a time that is suitable to us,” but if they continue rocket fire (NYT 1/17), “the Israeli army will regard itself as free to respond with force.” Hamas denounces Israel for ignoring Egyptian efforts to broker an agreed upon truce.
Combat notes: Olmert’s announcement comes at the end of a day of “sporadic and intensive” fighting in Gaza. The IDF reports hitting more than 120 targets, mostly comprising a final massive bombardment of more than 100 tunnels along the Rafah border that lasts 10 hrs., but also including strikes on at least 10 rocket-launching sites, 5 groups of armed Palestinians, 3 Hamas outposts. In addition to Rafah, air strike target areas include Bayt Hanun, Gaza City (city center), Jabaliya, Khan Yunis. Heavy artillery and tank fire are reported in: Bayt Lahiya, Jabaliya, al-Nasser (n. of Rafah). In Bayt Lahiya, IDF shells (possibly including white phosphorous) hit an UNRWA school sheltering 1,600 Gazans, killing 2 Palestinian brothers (ages 4, 5) and wounding 36 Palestinians (including the boys’ mother, who loses both legs. Naval bombardments center on Khan Yunis. Ground engagements are reported in al-Bureij r.c., al-Mughraqa, Nussayrat r.c., al-Zahra’. Late in the evening, IDF troops pull out of al-Shuka (where troops seized positions on 1/14), with residents reporting many houses demolished and damaged, wide areas of agricultural land razed, and significant damage to the village infrastructure (water systems, etc.).
Palestinians fire 19 rockets and 5 mortars into Israel, lightly injuring 5 Israelis (possibly all shock). The IDF reports 4 IDF soldiers seriously wounded in a friendly fire incident involving Israeli mortar fire, plus another 13 soldiers injured (3 seriously, 3 moderately, 7 lightly) in clashes with Palestinian gunmen over the previous 24 hrs., including 5 soldiers wounded by a Palestinian antitank round today.
With the truce ordered, the IDF put Israel’s comprehensive casualty toll for OCL at 3 (perhaps 4; see casualties chart in special document section for details) civilians and 10 soldiers dead, more than 100 soldiers and an unstated number of civilians injured. (This marks the 1st time the IDF has given estimates for comprehensive IDF casualties inside Gaza.) Gazan health officials estimate the Palestinian toll to be at least 1,200 killed and more than 5,000 wounded, though numbers are expected to change as rescue workers gain access to damaged areas.
Humanitarian notes: The IDF allows 62 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel gives no indication whether or how quickly it will ease restrictions on imports once the cease-fire goes into effect. (IDF, IFM 1/17; IFM, ITIC, NYT, QA, WP, WT 1/18; ITIC, JP, MM 1/19; JAZ 1/20; PCHR 1/22; FT 1/28; PCHR 1/29)
The IDF imposes a curfew on Hawara village s. of Nablus. (PCHR 1/22)
Before dawn the IDF moves troops into Gaza en masse to begin the forcible evacuation of Jewish settlers and disengagement protesters who have not yet left, begins demolishing settler homes in n. Gaza. By the end of the day, evacuations of Bedolah (est. 1986, pop. 220, size 1,456 d., hrs. to evac. 6), Ganei Tal (est. 1979, pop. 350, size 2,050 d., hrs. to evac. 11), Kerem Atzmona (est. 2001, pop. 24, hrs. to evac. 6), Morag (est. 1972, pop. 220, size 1,300 d., hrs. to evac. 7), Tal Katifa (est. 1992, pop. 60, size 183 d., hrs. to evac. 5) are completed; most residents of Gadid leave voluntarily. Settlers in Atzmona agree to evacuate voluntarily by 8/21, those in Netzarim by 8/22. Settlers who have not arranged their evacuation with the government will be housed temporarily in hotels, mobile homes: e.g., more than half of Morag’s settlers take up temporary residence in the West Bank settlement of Ofra; Israel’s Jerusalem municipality temporarily houses 1,000 Neve Dekalim settlers who have left voluntarily in a Jerusalem hotel. Generally there is little strong resistance; the IDF optimistically says it hopes that the evacuations could be completed within days instead of wks., as earlier estimated. During the day, some scuffles btwn. soldiers, settlers are reported; in some areas settlers set fire to tires and in garbage bins to prevent soldiers fr. entering settlements; at least 2 settlers set fire to their homes before leaving. In Morag, a female IDF soldier is stabbed with a syringe, lightly injured by a disengagement protester. (In total, 13 Israeli soldiers and police are lightly injured during the day.) Gaza settlers and protesters also attack Palestinians: some 200 Kefar Darom settlers rampage through nearby Palestinian areas, set fire to a Palestinian house; 20 Neve Dekalim settlers march through al-Mawasi, spread nails on roads to damage Palestinian cars, try to provoke Palestinian residents (the IDF intervenes, removes the settlers); other Jewish settlers fire on Palestinian homes, vandalize Palestinian greenhouses in the same area. The IDF also demolishes a Palestinian home, conducts arrest raids in al-Mawasi. Meanwhile, Palestinians in Khan Yunis begin returning to their homes on the edge of town facing the settlements, which they had fled since the start of the intifada in 9/00 because of IDF gunfire. Islamic Jihad mbrs. in some 50 boats, carrying banners and weapons, hold a seaborne victory parade off Gaza to celebrate disengagement. Some disengagement protests in Israel turn violent: a disengagement protester tosses a grenade at an IDF checkpoint in s. Israel, wounding 5 IDF soldiers; a female settler fr. Keddumim in the West Bank sets fire to herself during a demonstration in Netivot, is seriously injured. In the West Bank, a Jewish settler fr. Shvut Rachel steals a gun fr. an Israeli security guard at the industrial area of Shilo settlement, fires on Palestinian workers, killing 4 Palestinians, wounding 1. Sharon denounces the attack as “Jewish terror”; Palestinian Authority (PA) PM Mahmud Abbas calls on Palestinian factions to maintain calm, refrain fr. retaliation. At Sanur (to be evacuated under disengagement), 600 Jewish settlers hold an antidisengagement rally. The IDF conducts arrest raids, house searches in and around Hebron and in Nur al-Shams refugee camp (r.c.), Tulkarm. Also in Hebron, 4 bedouin children herding goats are injured when they accidentally trigger an unexploded IDF phosphorus shell; the IDF says it uses the shells only in training. A 9-yr.-old Palestinian dies of injuries received when she accidentally triggered unexploded IDF ordnance nr. Karmil. (Arutz 7, BBC, HA, IMEMC, NYT, REU, USA Today, WP, WT, YA 8/17; Voice of Israel, VOP 8/17 in WNC 8/18; BBC, HA, NYT, PCHR, WP, WT 8/18; MENA 8/18 in WNC 8/19; NYT 8/20; PCHR, PR 8/25; IMEMC 9/22; HA 11/10)