UK & World News

  • 2 August 2014, 18:39

Israel 'Withdraws Some Troops From Gaza'

The Israeli military appears to be winding down its ground operations in Gaza amid reports it has come close to achieving its objectives.

Two Israeli television stations reported that some tanks and troops began withdrawing from the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

It comes after an army spokesman told news agency AFP that Israel was "quite close to completing" the destruction of tunnels it claims were used by Hamas to infiltrate the country.

However there was no explicit confirmation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the ground operation was beginning to draw to a close.

Signs that Israel was winding down its offensive came earlier in the day, when Palestinians who fled fighting in the northern Gaza towns of Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra were told they could return home.

"The residents are advised to beware of explosive devices Hamas has spread across the area," the Israeli military said in a statement.

However Israeli assaults continued in other areas, with Palestinian officials reporting that dozens of people were killed.

Israeli strikes focused particularly on Rafah, where missing soldier, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was allegedly abducted on Friday.

A series of rocket attacks into Israel were also reported.

Amid the fighting, Israel announced it was pulling out of indirect ceasefire talks with Hamas in Cairo.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said: "Hamas cannot be trusted to keep their word. They cannot stop because, for them, a ceasefire at this stage, whether by arrangement or not by arrangement, would mean acknowledging the worst possible defeat."

Israel says Second Lieutenant Goldin was kidnapped just 90 minutes after a three-day ceasefire came into effect.

Two other Israeli soldiers were killed in the same incident - but Hamas says it has "lost contact" with Islamist militants operating in the area.

In a statement, the group said it believed the militants were all killed by Israeli "bombardment" on Friday, and that the missing soldier may also have died.

"We have lost contact with the group of fighters that took part in the ambush and we believe they were all killed in the (Israeli) bombardment," the statement said.

"Assuming that they managed to seize the soldier during combat, we assess that he was also killed in the incident."

More than 1,600 Palestinians have died since fighting began on July 8, Gaza health officials say.

According to the United Nations another 440,000 people, a quarter of Gaza's population, have been displaced by the fighting.

On the Israeli side, 63 soldiers and three civilians have lost their lives.

On Friday the US has rushed through a $225m (£133.6m) bill to replenish Israel's missile defence system.

Meanwhile, the UK Government said it was reviewing all its existing arms export licences with Israel following newspaper claims that weapons containing British components could be being used in the bombardment of Gaza.

A Government spokesman said: "We will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict."

The UK has also announced it will send another £3m of emergency humanitarian aid to Gaza, taking its total to £13m.

UN figures show 25% of Gaza's 1.8 million population have fled their homes, with 250,000 taking refuge in shelters run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

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