Israeli says Gaza pullout complete

January 21, 2009 12:00 am

, JERUSALEM, Jan 21 – Israeli troops have completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after a 22-day offensive against the Islamist Hamas movement, an army spokesman told AFP on Wednesday.

"The last soldier left the Gaza Strip this morning," the spokesman said. "However the army remains deployed all around the Gaza Strip to meet any eventuality."

The pullout began Sunday after Israel declared a ceasefire and Palestinian militants matched it. Hamas gave Israel a week to remove all troops and open crossing points into Gaza or face renewed hostilities.

Israel launched its massive assault on December 27, bombarding the narrow coastal strip where 1.5 million Palestinians live from land, air and sea.

Palestinian health ministry figures list more than 1,300 people dead, including 410 children and about 100 women. Another 5,300 people were wounded — 1,855 of them children and 795 women.

The Palestinian bureau of statistics reported 4,100 homes totally destroyed and 17,000 others damaged in the offensive.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon became Tuesday the first world leader to visit the enclave since Israel halted the deadliest offensive it has ever launched on the Palestinian territory, which has been ruled by Hamas since June 2007.

He accused Israel of using "excessive force" in the conflict, but he also condemned Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel which sparked the invasion.

They urged prosecutor general and government legal adviser Menachem Mazuz to act, describing the scale of casualties among women and children as "terrifying."

The Washington Post reported that President Barack Obama plans this week to name former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy to deal immediately with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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