Israel withdraws most troops from Gaza

By Josef Federman, Associated Press

Published: Sun, Aug. 3, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 A Palestinian relative of the Abu Wahdan family cries outside a damaged house in the Jebaliya refugee camp that was hit by an Israeli strike that killed several members of the family, in the northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. Jamila, 55, Hatem, 57, and Sanwara  Abu Wahdan, 27, were killed at the house after the extended family of more than 40 people had sought refuge in Jebaliya from shelling elsewhere.

A Palestinian relative of the Abu Wahdan family cries outside a damaged house in the Jebaliya refugee camp that was hit by an Israeli strike that killed several members of the family, in the northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. Jamila, 55, Hatem, 57, and Sanwara Abu Wahdan, 27, were killed at the house after the extended family of more than 40 people had sought refuge in Jebaliya from shelling elsewhere.

(Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel withdrew most of its ground troops from the Gaza Strip on Sunday in an apparent winding down of the nearly monthlong operation against Hamas that has left more than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead.

Even as Israel said it was close to completing its mission, heavy fighting raged in parts of Gaza, with at least 10 people killed in what U.N. and Palestinian officials said was an Israeli airstrike near a U.N. shelter. The United States lashed out at Israel, saying it was "appalled" by the "disgraceful" attack.

And with Hamas officials vowing to continue their fight, it remained uncertain whether Israel could unilaterally end the war.

Israel launched its military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire, carrying out hundreds of airstrikes across the crowded seaside territory. It then sent in ground forces July 17 in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks.

Hamas has fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel during what has turned into the bloodiest round of fighting ever between the two enemies.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed the bulk of ground troops had been pulled out of Gaza after the military concluded it had destroyed most of the tunnel network.

He said Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border for what he called a "synchronized attack" on Israel.

"We've caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we've basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal," he said. The army had thousands of troops in Gaza at the height of the operation.

In southern Israel, armored vehicles could be seen rolling slowly onto the back of large flatbed trucks near the Gaza border, while soldiers folded flags from atop a tank and rolled up their belongings and sleeping bags.

Lerner said, however, that the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas' rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.

The Israeli military said early Monday it would hold fire for a seven-hour "humanitarian window" beginning at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), saying the truce would not apply to areas where troops were still operating. The military said it would respond to any attacks during that time.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on against Hamas, he is coming under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.

U.N. officials say more than three-quarters of the dead have been civilians, including the 10 people killed Sunday at a U.N. school that has been converted into a shelter in the southern town of Rafah.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department condemned the strike in unusually strong language.

According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.

Robert Turner, director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the building had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people. He said the strike killed at least one U.N. staffer.

"The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times," Turner said. "They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea."

Inside the U.N. school's compound, several bodies, among them children, were strewn across the ground in puddles of blood. "Our trust and our fate are only in the hands of God!" one woman cried.

The Israeli military said it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was "reviewing the consequences of this strike."

In the current round of fighting, U.N. shelters have been struck by fire seven times. UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, says Israel has been the source of fire in all instances. But it also has said it found caches of rockets in vacant UNRWA schools three times.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian areas for cover and says the Islamic militant group is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as "human shields."

Israeli artillery shells slammed into two high-rise office buildings Sunday in downtown Gaza City, police and witnesses said. Al-Kidra said more than 50 Palestinians were killed, including 10 members of one family in a single strike in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.

Also Sunday, the Israeli military said it found three motorcycles in one of the tunnels leading to Israel. It said the vehicles were meant to facilitate an attack against Israelis and help militants get around more quickly.

Israeli officials said the military would reduce its ground activities in Gaza but would respond to continued attacks from Gaza with airstrikes.

"It's not a withdrawal," Israeli Cabinet minister Amir Peretz told Channel 10 TV. "It's setting up a new line that is a more controlled line with the air force doing its work."

In Gaza, Hamas officials said they would not halt the rocket fire without an end to an Israeli blockade of the territory that has devastated the local economy. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007, saying the measures are needed to keep Hamas from arming.

"If Israel stops unilaterally, Hamas will declare victory and will not grant any security or truce to Israel," said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Hamas deliberations. "In this case, we are going to live under a war of attrition until a political solution is found."

In Cairo, Egyptian and Palestinian negotiators held talks over a potential cease-fire. After accusing Hamas of repeatedly violating humanitarian cease-fire arrangements, Israel said it would not attend the talks and there was "no point" in negotiating with the militant group.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. Some 15,000 people attended his funeral Sunday.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on his Facebook page Sunday that he is a distant relative of Goldin and had known him his whole life. The information was previously kept under wraps while Goldin was feared abducted.

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed reporting.

1. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 3, 2014

Most of the media, included the Associated Press propagandists have been pushing the very aggressive and notoriously false Hamas narrative that the evil Jews have been mercilessly targeting women in children, and promoting and even staging photos ops to show dead civilians.

The story's main fact may be true, that a UN school was hit by Israeli bombs. However, they ignore the fact that even UN sources have reported three times that Hamas rockets have been found in their schools. Hamas deliberately puts its rockets and terrorists in and around schools, hospitals, mosques and other civilian structures. This provides a win-win situation for them inhibiting attacks for fear of "collateral damage" and when atacks are necessarily made, they can show the "collateral damage" to great propaganda advantage.

Hamas raises children to be suicide bombers, while Israelis protect children and women.
Hamas deliberately targets civilians with indiscriminate rocket attacks, while Israel tries to minimize civilian casualties (both their own and in Gaza).

Place blame where it is due, on Hamas.

2. 59fitz
davis, UT,
Aug. 3, 2014

The United States is Israel's only friend..What a lot of people are wondering is why? Israel is trashing our State Department and Secretary of State for trying to negotiate peace and save lifes. They have threatened and treated our President like he should be their personal servant. I am not a Democrat but I will not have my President treated in such a manner by any country.

3. jfunes
Honduras, 00,
Aug. 3, 2014

Israel is killing innocent people. They have the military weapons, they count with the compliance of the occidental world.

4. EPoint
Roy, UT,
Aug. 3, 2014

I'll repeat wisdom I heard from an Israeli: this violence and war will end when the Hamas & friends love their own children more than they hate the Israelis. Not 'til then.

5. Iron Rod
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 3, 2014

RE 59 fitz
Davis, Utah

Another interesting fact is that Der Speigel is reporting supposedly from reliable sources that Israel eavesdropped on Secretary Kerry phone calls last year during the peace talks between the Palestinians and themselves and eventually used that information to harden their talking positions.

Please correct me if I am wrong but did not Israel promise not to spy on the United States about three or four years ago when another spying fiasco became public?

Do they keep their word to the United States?