DUBAI: Israel has pulled out its ground forces from Gaza following an international outcry against its incursion which claimed at least 112 Palestinian lives.
However, Israel has not said it would halt its air strikes in the coastal strip. The Palestinian militant group, Hamas, declared “victory” as the Israelis completed their pull-out in the early hours of Monday. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said, “Gaza will always be a graveyard for the occupation forces.”
The Israeli withdrawal follows Washington’s call for an end to violence in Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also decided to shun all contacts with the Israelis in the wake of the attacks.
Palestinian medical staff estimated that nearly half of those who died during the Israeli offensive were civilians, including women and children.
The Israelis acknowledged that there were around 100 Palestinian casualties, but insisted that 90 per cent of those killed were militants.
Analysts point out that the American intervention to restrain Israel came about because the continued violence in Gaza was threatening to impede U.S. backed peace talks between Fatah, led by Mr. Abbas, and the Israelis. The pull-out also came a day before the visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mr. Abbas had spoken to Ms. Rice on the situation on Sunday.
Israeli authorities said the incursion had been undertaken to deter Palestinians from firing rockets that had targeted the town of Sderot and the industrial city of Ashkelon. Israeli officials have been quoted as saying “there will be more operations like this one or worse,” if the Palestinian rocket fire did not cease.
However, Hamas has rejected any link between the rocket firings and the Israeli incursion.
Hamas spokesman Taher Al-Nuno said the large Israeli offensive had been pre-planned following failed previous attempts to “subjugate the Palestinian people.”