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Israel Completes Gaza Troop Pullout

  • Luis Ramirez

Israeli forces say they have withdrawn totally from the Gaza Strip following their 22-day offensive on Hamas militants. Meanwhile, the Israeli army says it is investigating allegations about its use of white phosphorus during its campaign. There are signs the conflict, which Palestinian officials say killed 1,300 people, has not ended.

Israel says the last of its soldiers left the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning. Israel says all of its goals have been met, despite reports that militants inside the Gaza Strip fired yet more rockets at Israeli territory on Tuesday.

Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman, Major Avital Leibowitz told VOA on Wednesday that Israeli forces have been redeployed in the areas of Israeli territory that border the Gaza Strip.

"The troops are staying just to be ready for any possibility of further escalation. Yesterday, we were targeted by approximately a dozen mortars and two days ago, we were targeted with 15 rockets. And this is after we held our fire. So, the situation is still not 100 percent stable and this is why we are still outside, ready for any type of scenario," she said.

Hamas, though weakened, had said it would fight on if Israel did not pull out all of its troops quickly. That has been accomplished, but Israel has yet to meet Hamas' other condition, which is to reopen all border crossings.

Israel has blockaded Gaza since before the assault began on December 27 in a bid to isolate the militant Hamas leadership and prevent the smuggling of weapons.

Israeli aircraft and naval vessels continued to patrol Gaza, and there were reports early Wednesday of weapons fire from an Israeli gunboat. The Israeli military says one of its vessels fired warning shots into the water, but gave no specific information on the cause.

Members of the international community are pressing for reconstruction efforts to get under way. Palestinian and U.N. officials say thousands of homes were destroyed, with material losses reaching nearly $2 billion.

International human rights advocates have condemned what they say was the Israeli army's use of white phosphorus weapons during the offensive. The Israeli army on Wednesday said it had launched an internal investigation into the allegations.

The Israeli pullout was completed hours after Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. President in what analysts say was a move to ease the conflict, at least until Mr. Obama makes his Middle East policy clear.

Mr. Obama's predecessor, President George Bush, had supported what his administration said was Israel's right to defend itself from the rockets that militants in Gaza had been firing on Israeli civilians before the offensive.

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