Israel to leave Gaza once ceasefire is stable: Olmert

January 19th, 2009 - 5:26 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, Jan 19 (DPA) Israel has no intention of keeping its troops in the Gaza Strip following a 22-day-long campaign against Hamas and will leave the salient once it is satisfied a ceasefire implemented Sunday is holding, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday night.”Israel has no intention of staying in the Gaza Strip. We are keen on getting out the Gaza Strip with the greatest possible speed, once we can guarantee the ceasefire exists and is stable and there is no danger to the security of southern Israel,” he said after meeting European leaders in Jerusalem.

Olmert declared a unilateral ceasefire Saturday night, ending Israel’s three-week long offensive. Palestinian militant groups, who initially rejected the Israel ceasefire, announced one of their own Sunday afternoon, saying it would last for a week in order to give Israel time to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip.

Olmert however told the European leaders that in order for the ceasefire to take hold, Hamas had to be prevented “from rebuilding its military capabilities through the massive smuggling into the Gaza Strip of weapons from Iran and Syria.”

He thanked the leaders present in Jerusalem for a letter committing to help stopping arms smuggling, but added that “now we have, together with the United States and Egypt, to translate the commitment into action.”

The Israeli leader said Israel was prepared to work with the Europeans “to create better conditions for prosperity for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Dec 27, in response to massive rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel. The operation kicked off with a week of intense airstrikes, after which, on Jan 3, ground forces entered the coastal enclave.

Palestinian medical officials estimate that at least 1,300 people died in the Israeli operation. It is unclear how many of the Palestinian fatalities were militants and how many were civilians.

Olmert Sunday night said that he wanted to express Israel’s pain for the casualties among Gazans who weren’t involved in terrorism.

“I express, in the name of the state of Israel and the government of Israel and its people, my deep regret for these casualties.”

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