Gaza ceasefire continues to hold, Israel withdraws troops

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A 72-hour truce in Gaza was holding on Wednesday after Israel withdrew its troops from the strip on Tuesday morning.

An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza went into effect on Tuesday at 5:00 GMT.

The truce is set to pave the way for negotiations between Hamas and Israel in a first step to end the four-week war which has so far killed some 1,800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) will be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions,” Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said.

While Hamas wants an end to the Israeli blockade on impoverished Gaza, Israel wants the disarmament of Hamas and other groups.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on Tuesday that Israel is willing to agree to the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip in exchange for the disarmament of the groups there, citing Israeli official Ofer Gendelman.

Gendelman told Ma’an that the Israeli government linked the rebuilding of Gaza with disarming factions in the coastal enclave. The Israeli official said that Israel was interested in achieving an enduring ceasefire, but he insisted that it was contingent upon Hamas’ respect of the current 72-hour truce.

An Israeli soldier rides a tank after returning to Israel from Gaza 5 August. (photo: Reuters)

US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Israel’s position, linked a lifting of blockades of the devastated strip to Hamas giving up its rocket arsenal.

“What we want to do is support the Palestinians and their desire to improve their lives and to be able to open crossings and get food in and reconstruct and have greater freedom,” Kerry said.

“But that has to come with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets, moving into a different plane,” he said on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme.

Isarel and Hamas have dispatched a delegation to join talks in Cairo to negotiate a longer-term truce in Gaza.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on 8 July with the aim of stamping out Hamas rockets and destroying tunnels used by Hamas.

In a statement just ahead of the withdrawal, the IDF said that before the pullout it had eliminated 32 tunnels designed to allow Hamas to peruse raids into Israel and destroyed 3,000 missiles on the ground.

Palestinians ride a horse cart in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive in the east of Gaza City. (photo: Reuters)

The Israeli assault on Gaza has caused severe damage to the infrastructure in the strip, with over 10,000 houses, government buildings, universities, mosques and schools damaged in a month-long war. In addition to the 1,800 Palestinians killed, some half a million people have been displaced by the bloodshed.

Gaza needs some $6 billion to rebuild the demolished infrastructure. A donor conference to raise funds for rebuilding Gaza would be held in Oslo next month, said Palestinian officials.

An Israeli official, who declined to be identified, said Israel wanted humanitarian aid to flow to the Gaza Strip as soon as possible.

But the official said the import of cement – vital for reconstruction – would depend on achieving guarantees that it would not be used by Hamas to construct more infiltration tunnels leading into Israel and other fortifications, Reuters reported on Wednesday.