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Hamas declares victory as Israel withdraws from Gaza under U.S. pressure

Special to WorldTribune.com

TEL AVIV — Israeli infantry and armored units have been withdrawing from the Gaza Strip amid plans to suspend the offensive against Hamas and its Palestinian militia allies.

The Israeli military said it was close to demolishing all of Hamas’ weapons tunnels, including those that penetrate Israel.

Israeli reserve soldiers return to Israel on July 30 after fighting in the Gaza Strip.  /AP

Israeli reserve soldiers return to Israel on July 30 after fighting in the Gaza Strip. /AP

“Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

The withdrawal came amid U.S. pressure for an immediate and unilateral ceasefire by Israel. During the 25-day campaign, at least five Israeli ceasefires were violated by Hamas in which nearly a dozen soldiers were killed and another abducted.

“It has failed to achieve any of its goals and would be a clear defeat for the occupation army and for its leaders,” the Hamas bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council said. “Gaza resisted, endured and will achieve victory.”

Members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party agreed that the unilateral withdrawal marked a victory for Hamas. They said Hamas would continue to threaten Israel regardless of how many tunnels were destroyed.

“Hamas has not been defeated and the countdown to the next round has already begun,” former Deputy Defense Minister Danny Dannon, fired by Netanyahu during the war, said. “Without defeating Hamas, long-term quiet will not be achieved.

“They [Hamas] cannot be trusted to keep their word,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said.

The Israeli daily Haaretz said Israel’s military plans to announce on Aug. 4 that all of the Gazan tunnels were destroyed. Haaretz said the military would withdraw troops from Gaza communities.

“Some troops will withdraw from Gaza into Israel and will be redeployed in staging areas several kilometers outside the strip,” Haaretz said on Aug. 2.

On late Aug. 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to maintain Israeli operations against Hamas. As he spoke, Israel’s state television broadcast the withdrawal of main battle tanks from the Gaza Strip.

“The Israel Defense Forces has neutralized many terror tunnels that took years for Hamas to build,” Netanyahu said. “The IDF has had many achievements and successes since the beginning of the operation, hitting thousands of targets, including command center, arms factories, and terrorists.”

Palestinian sources said Israel Army units pulled out of parts of northern and southern Gaza Strip. They said the military told Palestinians they could return to their homes around the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

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