Israeli ground troops start withdrawing

Gaza City - Ground troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip on Sunday as Israel wrapped up an operation to destroy tunnels, but airstrikes continued, killing at least 15 Palestinians, among them 10 members of one family.

A military official said that most combat troops were back in Israeli territory by Sunday morning. Officials stressed that some soldiers would remain in key positions, especially on the inside of the Gaza-Israel border, between the first lines of houses and the border fence.

They said they expected the tunnel demolitions to be completed within the next 24 hours, cutting off Palestinian militants' access to Israel to kill or capture soldiers or civilians.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel would pay a price whether it remains in Gaza, withdrew or chose to negotiate.

The Israeli army acknowledged on Sunday that a missing soldier earlier believed to have been captured had been killed in combat.

A special committee led by the military's chief rabbi concluded on the weekend that Lieutenant Hadar Goldin had been killed on Friday.

Military operations continued especially in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, the scene of heavy fighting since Friday.

The Palestinian death toll has risen to at least 1 737 since 8 July, including about 400 children, the Gaza health ministry said.