#Israel withdraws troops from #Gaza

Yossi Melman writes: After 27 days and 63 Israeli Defense Forces fatalities, the war is over. At least as far as Israel is concerned. The unilateral withdrawal is a political decision informed by military considerations. The IDF has set up a line of defense within the buffer zone of three kilometers from the Gaza border, parallel with moving its troops out of the Hamas-controlled enclave. Granted, should Hamas keep firing rockets, the IDF will return to operational mode and bomb Gaza from air, with the repeat of the ground incursion very much on the table.

All these moves are coordinated with Egypt. Israel’s security coordination with Egypt during the operation has been unprecedentedly close; from Israel’s viewpoint, the special relation with the north-African ally is its most important strategic asset in the region, and the main achievement from this war.

In an interview with CNN, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said: We the Palestinian people have, since 1948, have listened to the international community and U.N. and international regulations, in the hope they end the aggression against us. But the international community failed in ending the Israeli occupation and failed in helping our people to have self-determination and have its own state. Even the latest (peace) negotiations, between (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu with Kerry as the broker, were sabotaged by Netanyahu.

Reuters reports: Israel said it would unilaterally hold fire in most of the Gaza Strip on Monday to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by an almost four-week-old war to go back to home.

The announcement, made first to Palestinian media, met with suspicion from Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists and followed unusually strong censure from Washington at the apparent Israeli shelling on Sunday of a U.N.-run shelter that killed 10 people.

An Israeli defence official said the ceasefire, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (0700 to 1400 GMT), would apply everywhere but areas of the southern town of Rafah where ground forces have intensified assaults after three soldiers died in a Hamas ambush there on Friday.

“If the truce is breached, the military will return fire during the declared duration of the truce,” the official said.

The official said east Rafah was the only urban area in which troops and tanks were still present, having been withdrawn or redeployed near Gaza’s border with Israel over the weekend.

Israel is winding down its offensive in the absence of a mediated disengagement deal with Hamas. It says the military is close to completing its main objective of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza and prepared to resume strikes in response to any future attacks by the Palestinians.

Hamas, whose envoys are in Egypt for truce negotiations that Israel has shunned in anger at Friday’s lethal ambush in Rafah, saw a possible ruse in the humanitarian truce announcement.

“The calm Israel declared is unilateral and aims to divert attention away from the Israeli massacres. We do not trust such a calm and we urge our people to exercise caution,” said the group’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri. [Continue reading…]

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