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Israel withdraws troops from Gaza as 72-hour truce begins

Aug. 5, 2014 9:20 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 6, 2014 1:12 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel on Tuesday completed the withdrawal of all troops from Gaza as a 72-hour humanitarian truce went into effect following intense global pressure to end the bloody offensive.

Army spokesman Peter Lerner told reporters troops would be deployed outside Gaza in defensive positions throughout the ceasefire.

Shortly before the start of the 8:00 a.m. truce, militants in Gaza fired some 17 rockets at Israel, the Israeli army said in a statement.

"Eleven of them hit and six were intercepted by the Iron Dome over the area of Gush Dan, Ashdod, and Be'er Sheva."

Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement that it had fired rockets toward Israeli cities at 7:50 a.m.

Four M75 missiles were launched at Jerusalem and one missile at Kiryat Malachi, the statement said.

Similarly, the military wings of Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine said their fighters fired homemade projectiles at Ashkelon.

In Gaza, Israeli warplanes staged at least five air strikes, none of which caused death or injury, before the truce took hold.

Meanwhile, two Palestinians succumbed to wounds sustained in earlier Israeli attacks, a health ministry spokesman said.

They were identified as Fayiz Abu Hammad, 34, and 22-year-old Ahmad al-Ghouti.

The two deaths brought the toll of the Israeli military offensive on Gaza to 1,867, while nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been injured.

Late Monday, sources in Egypt said both Palestinian factions and Israel had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire starting from 8 a.m.

"Egypt's contacts with relevant parties have achieved a commitment for a 72-hour truce in Gaza starting from 0500 GMT tomorrow morning, and an agreement for the rest of the relevant delegations to come to Cairo to conduct further negotiations," a senior official in Egypt told AFP.

On Sunday in Cairo, Palestinian factions agreed on "a ceasefire; Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza; the end of the siege of Gaza and opening its border crossings," said Maher al-Taher, a member of the delegation.

The Palestinian demands also include fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza's coast and the release of Palestinian prisoners demanded by Hamas and Abbas, said Taher, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israel was to send a delegation to Egypt in the coming days, an official said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides "to commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire."

Images of the bloodshed -- which has cost the lives of more than 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers -- have triggered tensions across the region and earned Israel increasingly harsh criticism for the high number of civilian casualties.

Israel, Palestinian factions, head to Cairo

Israel and Hamas, the de-facto power in Gaza, separately confirmed to AFP they would abide by the new 72-hour ceasefire which emerged from two days of Egyptian and US mediated talks in Cairo.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said a delegation of the Islamist movement's Gaza-based leaders would head to Cairo on Tuesday to join representatives of its exiled leadership who are based in Egypt and Qatar.

And Israel said it would also send a delegation to the Egyptian capital after earlier refusing to join the talks, an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said Monday's agreement was very similar to an earlier proposal by Egypt which had been accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas.

Hamas' exiled deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk said Monday that the new proposal would involve a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Late on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there would be no end to the Gaza military operation without first ensuring "quiet and security" in Israel "for a prolonged period."

Israel began its military operation against rocket-firing militants on July 8, and nine days later sent in ground troops to destroy the network of sophisticated attack tunnels.

The truce announcement came after international outrage grew over an Israeli strike near a UN school on Sunday that killed 10 people, denounced by the UN as "a moral outrage and a criminal act," with the United States saying it was "appalled."

"How many more deaths will it take to stop what must be called the carnage in Gaza?" French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked on Monday several hours before the truce was announced, as Britain said it was reviewing licences to sell arms to Israel.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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