Israel withdraws troops from Gaza, Hamas declares victory


Tel Aviv/Gaza : Hamas has called the pullout of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip a “victory” Monday after five days of fighting that has claimed the highest number of victims since the six-day war of 1967, local media and the Israel Army confirmed.

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“The enemy has been defeated,” a Hamas spokesman said in a broadcast on Hamas Radio.

An Israeli army spokesman said nearly all ground troops have withdrawn from the Palestinian territory but added that air raids would continue in reaction to any missile attacks by militant Palestinians.

“If they continue to fire at us with rockets we will shoot back,” said the military spokesman.

Five Palestinians were killed overnight Monday in airstrikes, according to Israel Radio. At least 112 Palestinians, including 26 children, have been killed in the Strip since Wednesday.

Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed since the latest round of fighting broke out five days ago, when Israel killed five Hamas militants it said were on their way to launch an attack, and militant groups responded by intensifying their rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

The intense escalation in fighting also led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare a freeze on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which restarted in December after a seven-year hiatus.

Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert told his ministers Sunday that the Gaza fighting notwithstanding, Israel was “interested in continuing the diplomatic negotiations”.

The European Union, the US and the UN Security Council have called on both parties to end the violence.