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Israel: Troops withdraw from Gaza for cease-fire

Gaza

GAZA — The Israeli military said Tuesday that it has withdrawn its ground troops from Gaza for a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the conflict with Hamas.

“We have no forces within Gaza,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told CNN.

Israel is implementing the Egyptian-brokered truce, which took effect Tuesday morning, from “defensive positions” outside Gaza, the IDF said.

Israeli officials had previously indicated they were winding down their ground operation in Gaza, which was aimed at demolishing Hamas’ network of tunnels that extends under the border.

The Israeli military said Tuesday it had destroyed 32 of the tunnels, some of which were used by militants to launch attacks on Israeli soil during the four-week conflict.

Officials from the United Nations and United States, who have been pushing for a cease-fire for weeks, hope that the three-day pause will allow negotiations to take place for a more lasting peace.

Will cease-fire hold?

The question remains whether the latest truce will hold — or fall apart as several others have during the conflict, which has killed more than 1,900 people.

The removal of Israeli troops from Gaza reduces the risk of renewed clashes, but the possibility of aerial bombardment remained on both sides.

About 20 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel minutes before the cease-fire went into effect Tuesday at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. ET) , an IDF spokesman said. Six were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and at least one was reported to have hit a Palestinian town in the West Bank without causing any injuries.

Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said it launched “a barrage of rockets” at Israeli cities as a response to “Israeli crimes.”

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that several Israeli strikes took place across Gaza before the beginning of the cease-fire. A CNN team witnessed one strike on a southern area of Gaza City and heard several others.

The truce enables Gaza’s 1.8 million residents to go out into the streets to pick up supplies and check on their abandoned homes. The conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people across the densely populated territory.

‘Peace? What peace?’

After the cease-fire began, residents trickled into Shujaya, an area near Gaza City that experienced some of the most destructive violence of the conflict.

They found craters and ruins where homes and shops once stood.

People scaled crumbled concrete and twisted metal to rummage for any belongings left in the rubble.

A white-haired man, Hany Mahmoud el Harezen, stood on the roof of his collapsed two-story home.

“I am a wedding photographer, I have nothing to do with this war,” he said. “Maybe if we had gotten some concessions, it would be worth it. But we got nothing.”

Nal Mohammed, a Ph.D. student whose family home was demolished, was also pessimistic about the situation.

“Peace? What peace? We have no home, no water, no power,” he said. “There is no peace here.”

Suspicion on both sides

Even as they agreed to the cease-fire, both sides appeared suspicious of one another.

“The onus is on Hamas,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

“We are entering this with our eyes open,” he said. “We have been burnt more than once.”

The sentiment was similar from Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, who told CNN that as long as Israel honors the agreement, so will the Palestinians.

“We hope they can take it and be committed to a cease-fire,” he said.

While Egypt has not released details of the cease-fire agreement, Regev suggested it was the same agreement that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected three weeks ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the removal of the tunnel threat didn’t guarantee an end to the campaign against Hamas.

“This operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period,” he said. “We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

Heavy civilian toll

Both sides have been criticized for a mounting civilian death toll in the conflict.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 1,865 people have been killed in Gaza during the conflict. The United Nations has estimated that civilians account for around 70% of those casualties.

Israeli officials have said 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died.

The United States urged both sides to honor the cease-fire agreement.

“The United States has been steadfast in our insistence on an end to rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and an end to the suffering of the people of Gaza,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “urges the parties to commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire and the underlying issues,” his office said in a statement.

Regev said Tuesday that Israel will send a delegation to Cairo if the current cease-fire holds.

A Palestinian delegation was in Cairo over the weekend, the Egyptian state media reported. The delegation included representatives of Fatah and Palestinian intelligence, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian report said.

British minister resigns over Gaza

Israel has come under increasing international pressure over its operation in Gaza and the heavy civilian death toll.

In the latest example of the ripples the conflict has sent around the globe, a British government minister said she was resigning over her country’s policy on Gaza.

“With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on Gaza,” Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote on Twitter.

Warsi, a member of the House of Lords and the first Muslim in a British Cabinet, posted a photo of her resignation letter on Twitter.

“Our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically,” she said in the letter.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman on Monday refused to say if Israel was behaving disproportionately or doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza.

U.S. officials stepped up calls in recent days for Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties. An Israeli strike near a U.N. shelter over the weekend drew particularly strong words from the U.S. State Department.

France on Monday criticized Israel’s Gaza operation and strikes on U.N.-run shelters in Gaza

“How many deaths will it take to stop what has to be called the carnage in Gaza?” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked in a statement. He said that while Israel has a right to total security, “this right does not justify the killing of children and the slaughter of civilians.”

The U.S. and French governments have also both condemned Hamas for its role in the conflict.

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