GAZA CITY: The Israeli army yesterday gave a first indication it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, while continuing to bombard other areas ahead of fresh truce talks in Cairo.
As a Palestinian delegation flew to Egypt in search of a ceasefire, the Israeli army conveyed a message to residents of part of northern Gaza that it was “safe” to return home. “They have been informed it is safe for civilians to return to Beit Lahiya and Al Atatra,” a spokeswoman said, in what was understood to be a confirmation that troops had stopped operating there.
Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others seen leaving another flashpoint area in southern Gaza. It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of Israel’s devastating 26-day operation, which has so far claimed 1,698 Palestinian lives and forced up to a quarter of the population into exile.
The move came after an army spokesman said Israel was “quite close to completing” the destruction of tunnels used for infiltrating southern Israel, the main objective of the ground operation.
Israel’s security cabinet decided against sending a delegation to ceasefire talks with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo.
A senior political official quoted by army radio said Hamas was “not interested in an arrangement”, with some commentators suggesting the pullback could signal the start of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal.
Since midnight, more than 74 people have been killed, the vast majority in Rafah, emergency services spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra said. The vast majority of the dead are civilians, with the number of wounded at over 9,000.
Meanwhile, air strikes and tank fire pounded huge areas of Gaza into rubble, killing four members of a family in Deir Al Balah and eight from two families in Rafah, taking the toll to 112 yesterday.
Israeli’s army said it intercepted two rockets from Gaza.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi said a Cairo truce plan can offer a solution to violence.
The Palestinian delegation comprising intelligence chief Majid Faraj, senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuq, and Ziad Al Nakhale, a leader of Islamic Jihad arrived in Cairo. US Middle East envoy Frank Lowenstein was also expected to arrive in Cairo.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they would keep up assault “as long as necessary” and Hamas vowed to continue fighting. AGENCIES