Israel Pulls Out From Part of Gaza, Snubs Cairo Talks

Harinder Mishra/Gaza/Jerusalem
Israel Pulls Out From Part of Gaza, Snubs Cairo Talks

Israel today indicated that it may be scaling down its offensive in Gaza and heading for a unilateral withdrawal as its troops pulled out from parts of the coastal strip, even as the Jewish state decided against sending representatives for fresh truce talks in Cairo.

Israeli attacks in southern Gaza, however, continued as troops searched for one of its missing soldiers believed to have been captured by Hamas.

The chances of rival sides halting fire seemed remote with Israel saying it believed militants had captured its 23-year-old soldier Hadar Goldin in an ambush near the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Israel has bombarded the Rafah area with medics saying it killed 114 people in 24 hours. More than 74 people have been killed today, raising the overall Palestinian death toll to 1,676, Gaza health officials said. They said 8,900 Palestinians have been injured so far.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army today told residents of Beit Lahiya town in northern Gaza that it was "safe" to return to their homes, as witnesses said troops were seen withdrawing from the area.

"We have told Beit Lahia residents that they may return to their homes. We advised them to avoid explosives placed by Hamas across the area," the Israel Defence Forces tweeted.

It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of the deadly 26-day conflict, which has forced up to a quarter of Gaza's population into exile.

"Messages have been conveyed to residents of the northern Gaza Strip that they may return to the Beit Lahiya area," an army statement said, with a spokeswoman indicating the message had been conveyed to authorities in the coastal strip.

"They have been informed it is safe for civilians to return to Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra," she said in an apparent confirmation that troops had stopped operating there.

However, later in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will keep up its military campaign in the Gaza Strip for as long as needed and with as much force as necessary. He said that all options were "on the table" to achieve that mission.

"From the beginning, we promised to return the quiet to Israel's citizens and we will continue to act until that aim is achieved. We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed," he said in a public address. He pledged to do whatever necessary to bring home Goldin.

The move of pull back came after the army said Israel was "quite close to completing" the destruction of tunnels used to infiltrate southern Israel.

But despite the partial withdrawal, Israel's security cabinet decided against sending representatives to hold ceasefire talks with the Palestinian delegation that had arrived in Cairo.

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