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Israeli Troops Pull Out of Northern Gaza Strip, Over 100 Palestinians Killed


Israeli soldiers pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip on Monday after several days of heavy fighting that left two Israeli soldiers and more than 100 Palestinians dead. Israeli air strikes continued against targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants continued their rocket attacks on Monday, repeatedly striking the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Israeli infantry troops pulled out of the town of Jebalya - a congested refugee camp where residents have been confined to their homes as Israeli troops and Palestinian militants fought each other over the past few days.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev says while Israeli ground troops have left northern Gaza they could return at any time.

"We intend to keep the military pressure on the Hamas extremists," he said. "We at the same plan to keep a strategy that is fluid, that is mobile and I think we will continue these sorts of ground surgical incursions designed to make sure the people of southern Israeli are defended in the best way that is possible."

Hamas militants called the pullout a victory for their forces and Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets at southern Israel, striking the city of Ashkelon - which is home to 120,000 Israelis. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri spoke to reporters in Gaza.

Abu Zuhri says Israel's pullout is a defeat in what he described as the first skirmish in a ground war in Gaza. He says Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed mainly civilians.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel. But he has also suspended peace talks with Israel because of Israel's actions in Gaza which have resulted in a large number of civilian casualties.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday in a bid to defuse the latest crisis and try and get the negotiations back on track.

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