Israel agrees to withdraw all ground forces from Gaza
Israeli and Palestinian governments said early Tuesday 5th August 2014, that they intended to have all of their ground forces out of the Gaza Strip before the start of an Egyptian-mediated, 72-hour cease-fire that was set to take effect at 8 a.m. local time.
Hamas has announced that it will also abide by the cease-fire, and that it will engage in talks with Israel in Cairo on a lasting arrangement to keep the peace in Gaza.
By the start of the cease-fire, “the Israel Defense Forces will be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip, and we will maintain those defensive positions,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, said in a telephone briefing Tuesday morning.
Most Israeli troops had already pulled back from populated areas in Gaza, and many had redeployed in Israel. But only on Monday, 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.
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 cease-fire went into effect at 8 a.m., a last salvo of rockets were fired toward 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 traditional “last word” before another of a series of conflicts between Israel and Hamas comes to an end.
Colonel Lerner 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.”
But Hamas and Islamic Jihad appeared ready for the conflict to come to a halt. They accepted an Egyptian proposal little changed from one that they had rejected earlier in the conflict; an earlier American attempt at a similar cease-fire also broke down quickly.
The Egyptians hope to begin talks in Cairo with all the concerned parties on how to turn the 72-hour pause into a more durable peace. In addition to the casualties in Gaza, the area’s infrastructure, including electricity, water and sewage systems, has been badly damaged. According to the United Nations, about 260,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million people have been displaced by the fighting.