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Israel pulls troops back from Gaza in truce

Israel has pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip to begin a 72-hour truce with Hamas, mediated by Egypt, as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war.

Minutes before the ceasefire started at 5am GMT, Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel's "massacres". Israel's anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. There were no casualties.

Israeli armour and infantry withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed.

Troops and tanks would be "redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip", spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting.

In the Gaza Strip, where a half-million people have been displaced, some residents carrying mattresses and with children left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where entire blocks have been destroyed.

destruction

Sitting on a pile of debris on the edge of the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Zuhair Hjaila, a 33-year-old father-of-four, said he had lost his house and his supermarket.

"This is complete destruction," he said. "I never thought I would come back to find an earthquake zone."

Several previous truce attempts by Egypt and other regional powers, overseen by the United States and United Nations, failed to calm the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in two years.

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

hnews@herald.ie


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