Israel further dilutes forces in Gaza, army reports calm night

January 19th, 2009 - 2:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza City/Tel Aviv, Jan 19 (DPA) Israel pulled more troops out of Gaza overnight, as a fragile truce which ended three weeks of deadly and destructive attacks in the strip entered its second day Monday.”We are continuing to dilute the forces,” a military official said.

Reserve soldiers who had pulled out, however, were not yet being released and remained on high alert.

Gazans and Israelis, meanwhile, woke up after a relatively quiet night, with the military official saying no rockets landed in southern Israel and the military carrying out no air-strikes in response.

The truce, which took effect at 2 a.m. (0000 GMT) Sunday, did not yet take hold the first day when Gaza militants fired at least 18 rockets into Israel, which responded with three attacks of its own.

As Israeli troops began pulling out, Gazans emerged from their homes Sunday and began digging bodies from under the rubble of destroyed homes, many of them in eastern and northern Gaza City and in the towns of Jabaliya and Beit Lahia, further to the north, where much of the destruction - and fighting - was concentrated.

At least 100 bodies were uncovered Sunday, Gaza emergency chief Mo’aweya Hassanein told reporters.

They brought the Palestinian death toll in the Israeli offensive to at least 1,300, 514 of them women and minors.

The actual civilian toll was likely higher, as health officials were unable to say how many of the adult men were fighters.

More than 5,000 people were injured, 2,650 of them women and children. Some 100,000 Gazans are said to have fled their homes.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were also killed and dozens injured in the ground fighting and in rocket attacks.

Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the unilateral truce late Saturday, saying the offensive had achieved its objectives.

Hamas, the radical Islamic movement ruling Gaza, and other factions active in the strip reciprocated Sunday by announcing they would cease their fire too, but demanded Israel withdraw all of its troops within one week and open its border crossings to allow in humanitarian aid and essential goods.

Olmert told visiting European leaders in Jerusalem Sunday night that Israel was “keen on getting out the Gaza Strip with the greatest possible speed”, but said a complete troop withdrawal would only happen once it was sure the ceasefire was holding and was stable.

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