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Ceasefire holds as Israel withdraws

Jerusalem, Aug. 5: Israel announced that it had withdrawn its forces from Gaza and Hamas said it would engage in talks on a lasting arrangement to keep the peace as a 72-hour cease-fire mediated by Egypt took hold this morning.

Most Israeli troops had already pulled back from populated areas in Gaza, and many had redeployed in Israel. But as late as yesterday, Israeli officials had said that the army would maintain some positions inside Gaza, and the announcement of a complete pullout appeared to be a major concession to the Egyptian initiative. By late morning, the chief army spokesman, Gen. Moti Almoz, said all Israeli forces had left Gaza. “There were a number of forces inside,” he told army radio. “But all of them have left.”

Gaza officials say that 1,834 Palestinians have died in the conflict, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8.

Just before the ceasefire went into effect at 8 a.m., a last salvo of rockets were fired towards Israel from Gaza, causing warning sirens to sound in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, while the Israeli air force carried out at least five strikes in Gaza, a customary “last word” before another of a series of conflicts between Israel and Hamas comes to an end.

Lt Col Peter Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, said that Israel had completed the destruction of “approximately 32 tunnels” built by Hamas into Israel, and that Israeli forces had killed “approximately 900 militants in combat”. He said that Israel had destroyed more than 3,000 rockets belonging to Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad, that those groups had launched more than 3,300 rockets toward Israel, and that Israel believed they had remaining stocks of 3,000 rockets.

He said Israel remained wary and would respond to attacks on its civilians or forces. “We will continue to maintain defensive positions from the air, the coast and the ground outside the Gaza Strip,” he said. Noting that previous cease-fires have collapsed, he said, “it all depends on what happens.”

 
 
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