Israel withdraws most troops from Gaza

Gaza City - Israel withdrew most of its ground troops from the Gaza Strip on Sunday in an apparent winding down of the nearly month-long operation against Hamas that has left more than 1 800 Palestinians and 60 Israelis dead.

Even as Israel said it was close to completing its mission, heavy fighting raged in parts of Gaza, with at least 10 Palestinians killed in an alleged Israeli air strike near a UN shelter, according to UN and Palestinian officials. The US and the United Nations condemned the attack in unusually strong terms.

And with Hamas officials vowing to continue their fight, it remained uncertain whether Israel could unilaterally end the war.

Israel launched its military operation in Gaza on 8 July in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire, carrying out hundreds of air strikes across the crowded seaside territory. It then sent in ground forces 17 July in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks.

Hamas has fired more than 3 000 rockets into Israel during what has turned into the bloodiest round of fighting ever between the two enemies.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesperson, confirmed the bulk of ground troops had been pulled out of Gaza after the military concluded it had destroyed most of the tunnel network.

He said Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border for what he called a "synchronised attack" on Israel.

"We've caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we've basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal," he said. The army had thousands of troops in Gaza at the height of the operation.

In southern Israel, armoured vehicles could be seen rolling slowly onto the back of large flatbed trucks near the Gaza border, while soldiers folded flags from atop a tank and rolled up their belongings and sleeping bags.

Lerner said, however, that the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas' rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.

International pressure

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on against Hamas, he is coming under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.

UN officials say more than three-quarters of the dead have been civilians, including the 10 people killed Sunday at a UN school that has been converted into a shelter in the southern town of Rafah.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation, while the US state department said Washington was "appalled" by the "disgraceful" attack.

According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.

Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the building had been providing shelter for about 3 000 people. He said the strike killed at least one UN staffer.

"The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times," Turner said. "They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea."

Inside the UN school's compound, several bodies, among them children, were strewn across the ground in puddles of blood. "Our trust and our fate are only in the hands of God!" one woman cried.


The Israeli military said it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was "reviewing the consequences of this strike".

In the current round of fighting, UN shelters have been struck by fire seven times. UNRWA, the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees, says Israel has been the source of fire in all instances. But it also has said it found caches of rockets in vacant UNRWA schools three times.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian areas for cover and says the Islamic militant group is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as "human shields".

Israeli artillery shells slammed into two high-rise office buildings on Sunday in downtown Gaza City, police and witnesses said. Al-Kidra said more than 50 Palestinians were killed, including 10 members of one family in a single strike in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.

Israeli officials said the military would reduce its ground activities in Gaza but would respond to continued attacks from Gaza with air strikes.

"It's not a withdrawal," said Israeli Cabinet minister Amir Peretz told Channel 10 TV. "It's setting up a new line that is a more controlled line with the air force doing its work."


In Gaza, Hamas officials said they would not halt the rocket fire without an end to an Israeli blockade of the territory that has devastated the local economy. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007, saying the measures are needed to keep Hamas from arming.

"If Israel stops unilaterally, Hamas will declare victory and will not grant any security or truce to Israel," said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Hamas deliberations.

"In this case, we are going to live under a war of attrition until a political solution is found."

In Cairo, Egyptian and Palestinian negotiators held talks over a potential cease-fire. After accusing Hamas of repeatedly violating humanitarian cease fire arrangements, Israel said it would not attend the talks and there was "no point" in negotiating with the militant group.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. About 15 000 people attended his funeral on Sunday.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on his Facebook page on Sunday that he is a distant relative of Goldin and had known him his whole life. The information was previously kept under wraps while Goldin was feared abducted.

- AP
Read more on: palestine israel gaza
Sviatoslav Igorevich 2014-08-03 10:24:11 PM
“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” - David Ben-Gurion, a.k.a. David Grün (1886-1973), Israeli Prime Minister (1948-53, 1955-63) and Chief Architect of Zionist terrorism and the state of Israel; revered by Israelis as "Father of the Nation"
Daniel 2014-08-03 10:32:09 PM
Either shut up or give positive input
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:33:48 PM
These Palestinians are full of courage!! Their patience in adversity is of the highest standard.. its true avram.. they can continue with their murders... but Palestinians still remain firm.. still with fear n hope... it is what keeps their spirit alive!! Remarkable ppl indeed!!
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:36:44 PM
Who kills ppl while collecting food.... n aid...n children ontop of it!!!!! A kids playground! Schools..shelters for those who have lost everything! What an Absolute disgrace to those who support this excessive use of violence on innocent people!
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:46:03 PM
Thousands of civilians have been killed marie knowingly by israel.. not MiSTakenly!! I have always said both sides should cum to an agreement.. as both cant always be right and neither can they be wrong.. lets look at numbers here!!! Can u not see the oppression caused by israel.. their excuses have become laughable.. u cant kill hundreds of innocent people irrespective of who u R!!!!!
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:48:02 PM
Please tell me in this recent weeks exactly how many innocent israeli civilians have been killed..? Women n children u say..? I would like to know if its indeed true
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:50:23 PM
Rick.. when u run out of excuses for ur beloved opressors.. u turn to name calling..?? Wow!! Is that the best u can do
Mashooda Dhorat 2014-08-03 10:50:53 PM
For 60 years now, the terrorists of israel try to wipe the Palestinians off the face of the earth and for 60 years they fail. Palestinians are indeed resilient, survivors, remarkable, definitely THE CHOSEN PEOPLE, they cannot be annihilated, even with the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. PALESTINIANS, salute, you have my respect and a special place in my heart and daily prayers
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:54:28 PM
Marie Ann.. like I said both should stop with the rockets.. but remember one thing.. Palestinians have been tortured for years.. degraded as well.. women rejected at check points only to give birth to still borns thereafter without medical treatment.. this is how they provoked palestinians a long time before rockets or bombs went flying..... so reflect on who's really defending themselves from who!?!
Binte Maya 2014-08-03 10:55:49 PM
Well said Mashooda!!!