Israel declares ‘mission accomplished’ as troops leave Gaza for cease-fire
By Jethro Mullen, Salma Abdelaziz and Matthew Chance
GAZA (CNN) — Withdrawing its ground forces Tuesday for a three-day cease-fire, Israel announced that their central goal was achieved.
“Mission accomplished,” the Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter. “We have dismantled the underground terror network built by Hamas to infiltrate and attack Israel.” The military said 32 tunnels were destroyed in the four-week conflict.
The declaration came amid suspicions on both sides over whether the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire will hold.
More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during the conflict, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It’s unclear how many were militants. The United Nations estimates that around 70% were civilians. Israeli officials have questioned the U.N. figures.
Israeli officials have said 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died.
“We have no forces within Gaza,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told CNN Tuesday.
Israel is implementing the Egyptian-brokered truce, which took effect Tuesday morning, while maintaining “defensive positions” outside Gaza, the IDF said.
About 20 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel minutes before the cease-fire went into effect Tuesday at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. ET) , an IDF spokesman said. Six were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and at least one was reported to have hit a Palestinian town in the West Bank without causing any injuries.
Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said it launched “a barrage of rockets” at Israeli cities as a response to “Israeli crimes.”
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that several Israeli strikes took place across Gaza before the beginning of the cease-fire. A CNN team witnessed one strike on a southern area of Gaza City and heard several others.
Officials from the United Nations and United States, who have been pushing for a cease-fire for weeks, hope that the three-day pause will allow negotiations to take place for a more lasting peace.
Israeli guard stabbed in West Bank
In the West Bank, a security guard outside the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim was stabbed Tuesday, Israeli police said.
The suspect, an Arab, fled back into a Palestinian neighborhood, according to witnesses, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Israeli police are searching for the suspect and calling the incident terrorism, Rosenfeld said.
The guard is in moderate condition.
‘Peace? What peace?’
The Gaza truce enables the 1.8 million residents to go out into the streets to pick up supplies and check on abandoned homes.
The conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people across the densely populated territory.
For the first time Tuesday, the number of people packed into U.N. shelters decreased, said U.N. official Chris Gunness in Gaza.
After the cease-fire began, residents trickled into Shujaya, an area near Gaza City that experienced some of the most destructive violence of the conflict.
They found craters and ruins where homes and shops once stood.
People scaled crumbled concrete and twisted metal to rummage for any belongings left in the rubble.
A white-haired man, Hany Mahmoud el Harezen, stood on the roof of his collapsed two-story home.
“I am a wedding photographer, I have nothing to do with this war,” he said. “Maybe if we had gotten some concessions, it would be worth it. But we got nothing.”
Nal Mohammed, a Ph.D. student whose family home was demolished, was also pessimistic about the situation.
“Peace? What peace? We have no home, no water, no power,” he said. “There is no peace here.”
Israel released a map noting numerous sites it targeted in Shujaya, which it said “Hamas used for military purposes.” The map cited locations of alleged tunnels, hideouts, rocket firings and launchings, and more.
Israel: ‘The onus is on Hamas’
Israel repeatedly accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal during the confilct, which Hamas rejected. Temporary humanitarian cease-fires repeatedly crumbled, with each side blaming the other.
“The onus is on Hamas,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN of the 72-hour truce.
“We are entering this with our eyes open,” he said. “We have been burnt more than once.”
The sentiment was similar from Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, who told CNN that as long as Israel honors the agreement, so will the Palestinians.
“We hope they can take it and be committed to a cease-fire,” he said.
While Egypt has not released details of the truce, Regev suggested it was the same agreement that Israel has accepted all along.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the removal of the tunnel threat didn’t guarantee an end to the campaign against Hamas.
“This operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period,” he said. “We struck a very severe blow at Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”
The United States urged both sides to honor the cease-fire agreement.
“The United States has been steadfast in our insistence on an end to rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and an end to the suffering of the people of Gaza,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “urges the parties to commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire and the underlying issues,” his office said in a statement.
Regev said Tuesday that Israel will send a delegation to Cairo if the current cease-fire holds.
A Palestinian delegation was in Cairo over the weekend, the Egyptian state media reported. The delegation included representatives of Fatah and Palestinian intelligence, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian report said.
British minister resigns over Gaza
In the latest example of the ripples the conflict has sent around the globe, a British government minister said she was resigning over her country’s policy on Gaza.
“With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on Gaza,” Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote on Twitter.
Warsi, a member of the House of Lords and the first Muslim in a British Cabinet, posted a photo of her resignation letter on Twitter.
U.S. officials stepped up calls in recent days for Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties. An Israeli strike near a U.N. shelter over the weekend drew particularly strong words from the U.S. State Department.
On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius slammed the “carnage in Gaza.” He also said Israel has a right to total security.
The U.S. and French governments have also both condemned Hamas for its role in the conflict.
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz reported from Gaza, Matthew Chance reported from Jerusalem, and Jethro Mullen reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Josh Levs, Claudia Rebaza, Phil O’Sullivan, Karl Penhaul, Chelsea J. Carter and Elaine Ly contributed to this report.
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