Israel pulls out from part of Gaza, snubs talks

Gaza City - The Israeli army on Saturday gave a first indication it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, while continuing to bombard other areas ahead of fresh truce talks in Cairo.

As a Palestinian delegation flew to Egypt in search of a ceasefire, the Israeli army messaged residents of part of northern Gaza that it was "safe" to return home.

"They have been informed it is safe for civilians to return to Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra," a spokesperson told AFP, in what was understood to be a confirmation that troops had stopped operating there.

Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others were seen leaving another flashpoint area in southern Gaza.

It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of Israel's devastating 26-day operation, which has so far claimed more than 1 660 Palestinian lives and displaced up to a quarter of the territory's population.

The move came after an army spokesman told AFP Israel was "quite close to completing" the destruction of tunnels used for infiltrating southern Israel -- the main objective of the ground operation.

Despite the partial withdrawal, Israel's security cabinet decided against sending a delegation to ceasefire talks with the Palestinians in Cairo, media reports said.

"Hamas has proven that it breaches any agreement reached right away, as happened five times in previous truces," deputy foreign minister Tzahi HaNegbi told AFP, without confirming the report.

"It is therefore unclear at this stage what benefit Israel might see for participating in an attempt to reach agreements, based on the Egyptian initiative," he said, as media reports suggested the pullback could signal the start of a unilateral withdrawal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to give an address at 18:00 at which he was expected to address the mission to destroy the tunnels, officials said.

Truce deal unlikely

Chances of achieving a more permanent ceasefire nosedived on Friday after Israel said it believed Hamas militants had captured a 23-year-old soldier in a Friday morning ambush near the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Immediately afterwards, Israel bombarded the Rafah area in shelling that is still ongoing, with medics saying it killed 114 people in 24 hours.

Since midnight, more than 86 people have been killed, the vast majority in Rafah, raising the overall toll to 1 676, emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said, putting the number of wounded at more than 9 000.

UN figures indicate at least two thirds of the dead are civilians, with around one third women and children.

The alleged capture of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin drew sharp condemnation from the United Nations and the White House, which jointly brokered the abortive 72-hour truce and demanded his immediate release.

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, acknowledged its militants had staged an ambush early on Friday in which soldiers were killed, but denied holding the soldier, saying the attackers were missing and presumed dead.

"We have lost contact with the mujahedeen unit that was in that ambush, and we think that all the fighters in this unit were killed by Zionist shelling along with the soldier, who the enemy says is missing, assuming our combatants captured this soldier during the fighting," it said,

"Until now, we in Qassam have no knowledge of the missing soldier, or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance."

Hunt goes on

Israel considers the capture of its soldiers a casus belli, launching a 34-day war on the Lebanon's Hezbollah in 2006 after it seized two soldiers.

Around the same time, Gaza militants captured conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1 000 Palestinian prisoners.

Goldin's family also made their own emotional appeal on Saturday evening in an address to the Israeli leadership.

"I demand that the state of Israel not leave Gaza without bringing my child back home to me," said his mother Hedva, her voice breaking.

"I cannot imagine that the army would abandon one of its fighters," said her husband Simcha outside their home in Kfar Saba near Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, air strikes and tank fire continued pounding huge areas of southern Gaza into rubble, killing scores more people on Saturday, as militants kept up their cross-border fire, with 56 rockets hitting Israel and another six downed, including two over greater Tel Aviv.

With a 12-member Palestinian delegation due to arrive for truce talks in Cairo on Saturday evening, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his country's truce proposal offered a "real chance to find a solution to the crisis" but that it must be implemented quickly to stop the bloodshed.

Among the delegation was senior Ramallah official Azzam al-Ahmad, Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj, senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuq, and Ziad al-Nakhale, a leader of Islamic Jihad.

Speaking to AFP, a senior Palestinian official told AFP that Israel was not expected to attend the Cairo talks and that US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns would also not be flying to Cairo, as announced.

In his place, Washington was to send Frank Lowenstein, the acting US envoy for the Middle East peace process, a State department official said.

Read more on: palestine israel gaza
Django Optimistic 2014-08-02 09:13:42 PM
Pity the people of Gaza. So badly led. Too close to Israel.
Jojo Balela 2014-08-02 10:53:22 PM
yes, let them come back to their neighbourhoods, they are too slow to realise that Israel pulled it's ground troops so it can use the white phosphorous chemical weapons and finish the job
Binte Maya 2014-08-02 11:31:15 PM
I agree enig ma... they will probably find his body.. hammas would have come forward if they had information regarding his dissapearance.. it would have been in their favour if they had kidnapped him.. now wouldn't it....
Munya Browne Sibanda 2014-08-03 12:50:00 AM
Y not erase history and stop fighting,,even 5 year olds can't behave like israel and palestine!!poor thinking,,keep on killing eachother,,we safe this side of the world
Sheldon Matthys 2014-08-03 09:58:43 AM
Israeli army" soldier was killed days ago in battle".Exactly what Hamas was saying. AP24 you need to get with the program.
Shiraz Mohideen 2014-08-03 10:07:14 AM
For those of the people that support israel and what they are currently enacting on in the Gaza region..Please draw similarities between Israel and the apartheid regime. Please don't look upon the Palestinian people as the aggressors for their resistance against occupation. Just like the apartheid regime enclosed our people in homelands so does the current Israeli government do to the Palestinians. The apartheid regime required dom - passes and so does the Israeli gov require Palestinians to carry identification. The apartheid regime limited the economic development of a people which is currently the situation of the people of Palestine. They have no military force, that is tanks, airplanes etc. Just like the apartheid police rolled into townships and meted out violence upon violence on defenseless people so does the Israeli army do to the Palestinian people. The mere fact that Hamas sends rockets is an attempt to meet violence with violence not to win the conflict. Everyone branded Mandela a terrorist for standing up for his people against the oppressors but eventually called him a freedom fighter for seeing the end game, everyone knew that mkonto-sizwe was no match for the apartheid army but it was formed to meet violence with violence. Please people of South Africa, we have been through what these people are currently going through, to agree with Israel is deny our own very own victory against oppression.
Finya Ngendololwane 2014-08-03 10:12:52 AM
But the guy carrying a shell on the pic looks exactly like Hamas guys and other Arabs especially Egyptians. Also does it mean that Israelis must always fight and fight all the time.
Jamill Ahmed 2014-08-03 02:07:46 PM
I dare any non jew to try and live in isreal they are treated with a cold shoulder some african jews went to isreal and were treared with insults and racial slur. .dont believe me?????? Go read it up