18 Jan : Israel called a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza on Saturday after a 22-day onslaught against its Islamist rulers which left more than 1,200 Palestinians dead and vast swathes of the territory in ruins.
After a meeting of his security cabinet, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was calling an immediate end to offensive operations but added that troops would stay in Gaza for the time-being with orders to return fire if attacked.
"At two o’clock in the morning (0000 GMT) we will stop fire but we will continue to be deployed in Gaza and its surroundings," Olmert said in a speech after the vote.
"We have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond," he added.
"If our enemies decide to strike and want to carry on then the Israeli army will regard itself as free to respond with force."
Although there was no immediate response from Hamas, an Islamist group which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, one of its leaders earlier vowed there would be no peace while troops remained.
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who had been striving to broker a bilateral truce between the Israelis and Hamas, said only an unconditional ceasefire would suffice and called for all troops to leave the territory.
Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are to co-host a summit on Gaza in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday which will also be attended by a string of European leaders, the king of Jordan and UN chief Ban ki-Moon.
In the hours before the security cabinet meeting, Israel kept lobbing shells into the densely populated urban area, while to the north in Beit Lahiya a UN-run school was set ablaze by bombs.
Two brothers, aged five and seven, were killed and another dozen people wounded in the attack, in which burning embers trailing smoke rained down on a school where some 1,600 people were sheltering, setting parts of it alight.
Ban called the fourth such attack on a UN-run school during the war as "outrageous" and demanded a thorough investigation.
During the course of the war, schools, hospitals, UN compounds and thousands of homes all came under attack with the Palestinian Authority putting the cost of damage to infrastructure to infrastructure alone is 476 million dollars
At least 1,206 Palestinians, including 410 children, have been killed since the start of Israel’s deadliest-ever assault on the territory on 27th December, according to Gaza medics, who said another 5,300 people have been wounded.
Those slain in the war also include 109 women, 113 elderly people, 14 paramedics, and four journalists, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services.
Since the start of the operation 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or in rocket strikes. The army says more than 700 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israel during that period.
One of the main aims of the offensive has been to put a halt to rocket and mortar attacks but a further 23 missiles were fired from Gaza on Saturday, including seven long-range missiles.
The army said that it had carried out 70 aerial attacks against weapons smuggling tunnels along Gaza’s border with Egypt, Hamas’s rear supply route.
The Islamists, who seized power in Gaza by driving out forces loyal to moderate Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, continued to strike a defiant note in the build-up to ceasefire announcement.
"This unilateral ceasefire does not foresee a withdrawal" by the Israeli army, Osama Hemdan, the movement’s Lebanon representative, said. "As long as it remains in Gaza, resistance and confrontation will continue."
The stop to the violence came after the Jewish state won pledges from Washington and Cairo to help prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, the lesser half of the Palestinians’ promised future state.
Although Egypt has not given any details about what assurances it has given Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a pledge on Friday promising "enhanced US security and intelligence cooperation with regional governments on actions to prevent weapons and explosive flows to Gaza."
Key events since Israel began its offensive against Hamas which has so far killed at least 1,200 Palestinians.
SATURDAY, 27th DECEMBER
– Israel launches Operation Cast Lead with a massive air assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip in a bid to halt militant rocket attacks.
SUNDAY, 28th DECEMBER
– Israeli warplanes bomb smuggling tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border.
WEDNESDAY, 31st DECEMBER
– Rockets fired from Gaza land more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) inside Israel.
THURSDAY, 1st JANUARY
– Senior Hamas official Nizar Rayan killed in an Israeli air raid.
SATURDAY, 3rd JANUARY
– Israeli ground forces enter the Gaza Strip.
SUNDAY, 4th JANUARY
– Israeli forces surround Gaza City and control a key highway, cutting the territory in half.
MONDAY, 5th JANUARY
– Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rejects EU calls for an immediate ceasefire.
TUESDAY, 6th JANUARY
– The Israeli army says three soldiers are killed by "friendly" tank fire.
– Israeli strikes near three UN schools kill 48 people, medics say.
WEDNESDAY, 7th JANUARY
– Israel briefly halts the shelling to allow aid into Gaza. Hamas says it will stop firing rockets into Israel for as long as the Israeli attacks cease.
THURSDAY, 8th JANUARY
– The UN Security Council approves a resolution calling for an "immediate, durable" ceasefire in Gaza leading to a "full withdrawal" of Israeli troops. Both Israel and Hamas ignore it.
– The main UN agency operating in Gaza suspends operations after a UN-flagged convoy is hit by tank shells.
FRIDAY, 9th JANUARY
– Anti-Israeli protests are held across the Arab world.
SATURDAY, 10th JANUARY
– New round of diplomacy launched in Cairo, with Egypt hosting separate talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and a Hamas delegation.
SUNDAY, 11th JANUARY
– Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel is nearing its goals — but fighting continues.
MONDAY, 12th JANUARY
– Hamas is nearing victory, says Ismail Haniya, the head of the Islamist movement’s government in the Gaza Strip.
WEDNESDAY, 14th JANUARY
– Three rockets slam into northern Israel from Lebanon in the second attack in less than a week. No casualties reported.
THURSDAY, 15th JANUARY
– A wing of a hospital in Gaza City ablaze after an Israeli strike.
– The UN agency for Palestinian refugees suspends operations inside Gaza after its compound is hit by an Israeli strike, wounding three.
– Hamas interior minister Said Siam is killed in Israeli air strike.
FRIDAY, 16th JANUARY
– Hamas proposes a year-long truce with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from Gaza and an end to the blockade of the enclave.
– The Palestinian death toll since December 27 reaches at least 1,188 Palestinians, with 5,285 wounded, according to Gaza medics. On the Israeli side 10 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
– UN chief Ban Ki-moon says that a ceasefire in the war in the Gaza Strip was "very close."
– A Hamas delegation returns to Cairo for a second round of truce talks.
– Arab and other Muslim leaders meeting in Qatar accuse Israel of "crimes of war and genocide" in Gaza.
– US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sign a deal in Washington aimed at halting arms smuggling into Gaza as part of efforts to clinch a ceasefire.
– A senior Israeli government official says Israel’s security cabinet is expected to vote in favour on Saturday of a proposal for a unilateral ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
SATURDAY, 17th JANUARY
– The Israeli security cabinet votes in favour of a unilateral ceasefire in its 22-day-old war in the Gaza Strip that has killed 1,203 Palestinians and left much of the enclave in ruins.
– Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will halt its offensive in Gaza at 0000 GMT on Sunday but troops will remain in the enclave for the time being and will respond to Hamas fire.
– Olmert says Israel’s war in Gaza has achieved all its goals.
– Hamas official Osama Hemdan earlier says the Islamist group will fight on if Israel orders a unilateral ceasefire because this does not envisage an Israeli army pullout.
– Egypt says it will host an international summit on the Gaza crisis on Sunday attended by several European leaders as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
– Israeli warships and tanks, dug in on the outskirts of Gaza City, keep lobbying shells into the densely populated urban area.
– United Nations officials demand an investigation into a new Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza, which killed a woman and a child and which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemns as "outrageous".
– Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit says Cairo is "not bound" by a US-Israeli agreement to stop arms smuggling to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.