All turns quiet on the Gaza front as 72-hour ceasefire comes into effect

Israel pulls out its ground forces as 72-hour ceasefire comes into effect and army announces the end of its operation to destroy Hamas tunnels

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 4:37am

Gaza fell silent yesterday after a month of intense combat, as a 72-hour truce accepted by Israel and Hamas came into effect and the last Israeli troops left the battered enclave.

Just minutes before the ceasefire took hold, however, Israel's military and Hamas both engaged in displays of firepower, seemingly determined to have the last word on the 29th day of hostilities.

Sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Hamas fired a barrage of 16 rockets over the border, one of which hit a Palestinian home in the West Bank, causing damage but no injuries, witnesses said.

In Gaza, Israeli warplanes staged at least five air strikes before the truce took hold.

Israel also said all of its troops had withdrawn from Gaza after completing a mission to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, ending a ground operation which began on July 17.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said troops would be "deployed in defensive positions" outside of Gaza and would retaliate to any violation of the truce, which was announced by Egypt late on Monday.

The truce began after what was believed to be the quietest night since the devastating operation began on July 8.

Medical workers said there were no deaths or injuries since midnight, although two people succumbed to injuries, putting the overall death toll at 1,867.

On the ground, medical workers went into areas which had previously been inaccessible, with the worst devastation near the southern city of Rafah, which had been flattened in a massive Israeli assault which began on Friday.

There they found the bodies of five militants - two from Hamas and three from Islamic Jihad.

Elsewhere, people were slowly returning to homes they had fled after being ordered out by the army, with dozens of people in the northern town of Beit Hanun heading home in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Among them was Rafat al-Masri, a father of five who found his family home in ruins.

"I've worked 40 years to have this house and now it is all destroyed," he said.

"There is nothing left, no rooms, no kitchen. Everything is totally destroyed."

It was the second time in four days that the two sides had agreed to observe a 72-hour humanitarian truce, with the last attempt on August 1 - brokered by Washington and the UN - shattering in an explosion of violence within just 90 minutes.

The latest breakthrough emerged in Cairo where Palestinian and Egyptian mediators had held two days of talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives.

Israel and Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, separately confirmed they would abide by the new ceasefire.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said a delegation of the Islamist movement's Gaza-based leaders would head to Cairo to join representatives of its exiled leadership. Israel said it would also send a delegation after earlier refusing to attend.

The agreement by both sides to hold their fire for three days was hailed by both the US and the UN. Both said the onus was on Hamas to uphold the deal.

Israel said it had withdrawn its forces after they had destroyed 32 cross-border tunnels.

"They were part of a strategic plan of Hamas, and an investment of approximately US$100 million worth of materials and we have now removed that threat," Lerner said.