GAZA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli army began on Sunday evening withdrawing part of its troops from the Gaza Strip, after both Israel and Hamas announced their ceasefire plans.
Footage of Israeli TV Channel 10 showed that Israeli tanks and soldiers were moving toward the border from inside the Palestinian enclave. An Israeli military spokesman later confirmed that the army has started pulling out part of its forces.
Israeli soldiers walk on Israel-Gaza border after returning from the Gaza Strip Jan. 18, 2009. The Israeli army has begun withdrawing its troops from the Gaza Strip on Sunday evening, local news service Ynet reported. (Xinhua/Rafael Ben-Ari)
It is still unknown how many troops Israel will withdraw at the current stage and when it will finish a complete withdrawal. Local news service Ynet reported that the departing troops were deployed to areas near the security fence along the border.
The partial withdrawal came hours after Hamas and other Gazan militant groups announced that they would stage a one-week ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip, during which Israel must withdraw its troops. The Jewish state has put on a unilateral truce since 2 a.m. (0000 GMT), during which Israeli forces are supposed to cease unprovoked fire.
Israeli soldiers walk on Israel-Gaza border after returning from the Gaza Strip Jan. 18, 2009. (Xinhua/Rafael Ben-Ari)
When declaring the unilateral truce on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the Israeli army would remain in Gaza, and that Israel will consider the withdrawal if Hamas entirely ends its rocket fire.
The ceasefire is "fragile," and Israel will closely monitor the Gaza situation and are ready to handle any scenario, Olmert told his ministers on Sunday morning, stressing that Israel has the right to "react and renew its military actions if the terror groups continue firing."
Israeli soldiers wait to go back by bus at Israel-Gaza border after returning from the Gaza Strip Jan. 18, 2009. (Xinhua/Rafael Ben-Ari)
"We can't talk about a timetable for withdrawal until we know the ceasefire is holding," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.
In a letter to the troops, the army's Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that the objectives set for the Gaza operation "were met in full," but the operation "has yet to be concluded and the next several days call for us to remain alert and ready, until peace and quiet are restored to our cities."
Earlier in the day, Gazan militants fired at least 15 rockets at southern Israel, leaving two people injured, and Israeli warplanes bombarded the launching sites in response.
Exchange of fire also occurred in northern Gaza, and a Palestinian farmer was shot dead in southern Gaza by Israeli troops who claimed that he was approaching a military zone.
Should the two ceasefire initiatives hold, they would bring a pause to the three weeks of bloodshed across the Israel-Gaza border. Over 1,300 Gazans have been killed and over 5,500 wounded in Israel's massive onslaught, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, and 13 Israelis have also died.
A respite would also pay the way for a possible lasting truce deal between the Jewish state and the Islamist movement, as Egypt is leading the international efforts to reach the goal.
Int'l summit in Egypt presses for consolidating Gaza ceasefire
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- A number of European and Mideast leaders wrapped up an international summit hosted by Egypt on the situation of the Gaza Strip here on Sunday afternoon, pressing for parties concerned to consolidate a fragile ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave.
The international conference on Gaza, co-chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, was attended by a number of European leaders, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Full story
Israeli PM says to withdraw after truce stabilizes
JERUSALEM, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that his nation will pull troops out of the Gaza Strip once a stable truce is guaranteed.
"We intend to leave Gaza as soon as possible once we make sure that Israel's south is safe. We did not set out to take Gaza, and we have no desire to stay in it," he told visiting European leaders in the evening at his official residence. Full story
UN chief calls for durable Gaza ceasefire
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that the ceasefire in Gaza Strip should become a durable and lasting truce.
Ban made his call at a press conference following an international summit in the Egyptian resort, which was attended by a number of European leaders, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Full story