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Obama Calls Mideast Leaders About Gaza


U.S. President Barack Obama has called the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to express his commitment to pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

The White House said Mr. Obama emphasized his determination to help consolidate the current Hamas-Israeli cease-fire, and help the Palestinian Authority with a major reconstruction effort in Gaza after three weeks of conflict.

A White House spokesman said Mr. Obama said that ensuring the truce holds involves establishing an effective anti-smuggling program to keep Hamas from re-arming.

The spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the calls were an opportunity for Mr. Obama to communicate his commitment to seeking Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership.

Mr. Obama phoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Mr. Mubarak has been helping mediate an end to the conflict between Gaza and Israel.

The Israeli military said Wednesday it has pulled the last of its soldiers out of the Gaza Strip this morning, after a campaign it said was aimed at stopping militants' rocket attacks on southern Israel.

But a military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovitz, said forces remain deployed outside the territory to deal with potential incidents.

Israel began its withdrawal from Gaza after announcing a unilateral cease-fire in its offensive on Sunday. Hamas declared its own truce hours later.

Both Israel and Hamas reported violations of the cease-fire Tuesday, but they did not affect the pull-out.

Hamas had said it will resume the conflict unless Israeli troops were gone in a week, and border crossings were re-opened.

More humanitarian aid has been coming into the territory in the past few days, but the blockade remains largely intact.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday Hamas has the right to re-arm. Tehran is one of the main supporters of Hamas, but denies it supplies the group with weapons.

Despite an Israeli blockade, militants have been able to smuggle weapons in through a network of tunnels from Egypt.

Palestinian medics said Israeli forces killed 1,300 Palestinians in the fighting. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Palestinian officials estimate the cost of rebuilding Gaza at almost two billion dollars.

U.N. agencies appealed to Israel to open all crossings with Gaza to enable the delivery of relief supplies and reconstruction material. U.N. relief spokeswoman Elena Mancuni Materi said more than 50,000 Gazans are living in shelters.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Hamas must release an Israeli soldier it holds captive if it wants Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza.

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