Sunday, January 18, 2009

Israel’s unilateral cease-fire goes into effect early in the morning as planned, marking the official end to OCL. The IDF begins withdrawing ground troops fr. Gaza early in the morning and releases reservists from call-up later in the day, with Olmert stating that Israel intends to pull out of Gaza as quickly as possible. Israel generally observes its cease-fire during the day, but maintains a policy of firing on Palestinians who stray close to the Gaza border fence or approach withdrawing troops. After firing 15 rockets into Israel early in the day (lightly injuring 2 Israelis in Ashdod), Hamas and other Palestinian factions declare their own Gaza cease-fire but warn that they would resume fighting if Israel does not withdraw quickly. (Unidentified factions fire 4 rockets after Hamas’s announcement, causing no injuries.) Egypt, France, the EU, and the Arab states shift their mediation efforts to securing a lasting truce and securing donor aid to fund Gaza reconstruction. 

Combat notes: The IDF carries out 3 air strikes against 1 group of armed Palestinians that fires on IDF ground forces nr. Wadi al-Silqa and 2 rocket-launching sites nr. Bayt Hanun; no injuries are reported. IDF troops on the s. Gaza border fire on a group of Palestinians inspecting damage to agricultural land nr. the border, killing 1 Palestinian civilian. The Israeli navy fires a missile at the PA General Intelligence compound in n. Gaza. Israeli warplanes continue low-level overflights of the Strip throughout the day, keeping many Palestinians off the streets. By day’s end, the IDF pulls troops in n. Gaza back into the buffer zone along the n. Gaza border; redeploys outside Gaza City’s al-Dahadih, al-Sha’af, Tal al-Hawa, and al-Zaytun neighborhoods; pulls troops out of al-Zahra’ in c. Gaza; withdraws from the al-Fukhari area and al-Mughraqa in the south.

Palestinians attempting to return to their homes in Gaza City’s northwestern neighborhoods find widespread devastation (especially in Twam, used as a staging area for the IDF’s tank corps), prompting 100s to return to UNRWA shelters. Residents of al-Atatra and al-Salatin areas on the northern outskirts of Gaza City similarly report 10s of homes and 3 schools destroyed, large tracks of agricultural land razed, significant damage to infrastructure. In s. Gaza, residents of the al-Fukhari area report at least 30 homes demolished, large areas of agricultural land razed since troops occupied the area on 1/14. Rescue workers combing the rubble in heavily damaged areas in and around Gaza City report finding at least 35 bodies in the Twam area, 95 bodies in al-Zaytun neighborhood, 24 bodies in Atatra and Izbat ‘Abid Rabbuh, 5 in Jabaliya. Palestinian workers begin repairing water and electricity lines in various areas. Israel allows 150 truckloads of humanitarian goods into Gaza. (AFP, IDF, IFM, NYT, WP, WT 1/18; HA, IDF Radio, MM, NYT, WP, WT 1/19; NYT 1/20; PCHR 1/22; FT 1/28; PCHR 1/29)

The IDF conducts late-night arrest raids, house searches nr. Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin. (PCHR 1/22)